There’s something subversive about the Two Man Gentlemen Band, returning to Savannah Friday for a show at the Sentient Bean.
At first glance, it seems that New York’s Andy Bean and Fuller Condon are just doing retro shtick, aping old–timey two–man vaudeville acts with catchy tunes, silly jokes and an excess of the ol’ vo–de–oh–doh.
Here’s the subversive part: They’re both solid musicians, Bean on guitar and banjo, Condon on standup bass. Bean, in particular, has a way with lightning–fast swing jazz chords and lickety–split lead solos. They both play the kazoo, too, but even that makes sense in context.
And their songs are not only solidly rhythmic, melodic and harmony–rich, they’re funny. From Bean’s “Fancy Beer,” “William Howard Taft” and “Me, I Get High on Reefer,” to Condon’s “There’s Something in My Trousers” and “Put it in My Ear (When You Make That Music),” the TMGB tunes are full of lyrical puns, machine–gun narratives and delightfully cornball singalongs.
Audiences around the country got a gander at the Gents when they were tagged to open a couple of dates for a joint tour by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp.
You’re a relatively young guy playing pretty old music. How did this come into your sphere?
Andy Bean: We were just lucky enough to be exposed to some old hot jazz records in college, both of us. And we just caught the bug. We’re so deep into it that it’s mostly ‘20s and ‘30s stuff that we listen to – and so we forget how strange it is.
A lot of people look back to Dylan or the Beatles – and that stuff’s 40 years old. So to go back another 40 years is not that much bigger of a jump, we think.
You started performing by busking in Central Park?
Andy Bean: The Councilman and I – he’s my music partner, Fuller – we knew each other in college and played in some rock bands. But we’d always loved old acoustic stuff. So a few years after college we just decided “Let’s play this kind of music. Let’s go out to the park.” We had written like five songs. We just started playing in the park, and people threw money at us! I remember the first day we made $45 or something, and it seemed like the greatest and most lucrative thing in the entire world.
We made $45, and we were so excited we went out and spent $90 at a bar. That was the first couple of times, and we were like “Wait a second ... if we don’t spend it all, that’s better.”
We street–performed pretty heavily for about two years, and then the whole “getting up really early in the morning to get a good spot” thing, and having to be more dependant on the weather than farmers, sort of got to us. We took to the road for a little more stability.
What are New Yorkers like? They must get used to music on the street – a blind guy with a trumpet and a donation bucket – everywhere. What sort of comments did you get?
Andy Bean: You know, it was almost entirely pleasant. The one thing it did teach us is that 99 percent of people who walked by us would completely ignore us. So it taught us how to handle rejection very early. Which is, I think, a good career skill for bands to have.
Whether you’re street–performing or just standing there, to stay in one spot for six hours a day, in New York City, you see a lot of folks. And we saw a lot of celebrities.
Somebody invited us to come up and play in an apartment, and it happened to be Carson Daly’s apartment.
What was the Dylan tour like? How did you get that spot?
Andy Bean: That’s still kind of a mystery to us. A band that we’re good friends with got picked up for the tour – we’re still not really sure how that happened – and then they had some conflicting dates. So we filled in for them.
I think the whole opening slot on that tour existed because neither Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson nor John Mellencamp wanted the humiliation of opening the show. And so they brought in us small–time guys.
It was great, though, all those baseball stadiums full of people. And since they were general admission shows, everybody showed up early. And it went over great.
Although the headliners didn’t have much to do with us. We did meet Willie Nelson, who is about as friendly a guy as there is.
Using a song of yours like “Me, I Get High on Reefer” as an example, I have to ask: Were there precedents? Were songwriters back in the old jazz days doing stuff like that?
Andy Bean: I was really, really deep into old rhythm ‘n’ blues, ‘40s and ‘50s jump blues stuff, and there’s a huge tradition ... the “reefer” tunes were called “viper” tunes. And novelty tunes. You think of Lloyd Price doing “Frog Legs” – there’s a crazy rich tradition, definitely with the double entendre stuff. Anything we do is completely tame. Wynonie Harris did “Keep on Churning Till the Butter Comes.”
Our favorite tunes were always the kind of fun ones, so when we went to write our own, maybe it wasn’t necessarily intentional, but they came up sounding like what our favorite tunes of that era sound like.
Are you surprised that young people, in particular, are getting into what’s essentially an archaic form of music performance?
Andy Bean: Almost all the shows we play, we’re lucky enough that the name’s out there enough that people come in to see us. And we’re not necessarily trying to get a bar full of strangers’ attention too much any more. Also, it seems like most of the folks who are into us are people for whom genre distinctions don’t really mean anything.
The shows have been going so well in the last year or so, for us and for the audience it’s like we might as well be doing a rock show. I think we all forget that it’s all sort of old–fashioned.
The Two Man Gentlemen Band
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, July 30
Artists’ website: thetwogentlemen.com