The music of Gentlemen

Two-man band to open for the Carolina Chocolate Drops
By Stina Sieg | Dec 03, 2012
Photo by: Courtesy photo The Two Man Gentlemen Band will open for the Carolina Chocolate Drops this Saturday night at the Orange Peel in Asheville.

ASHEVILLE — The music industry is awash in niche genres these days. Between newgrass (Sam Bush, anyone?) and K-Pop (think Psy of “Gangnam Style”) and so many others, you’ve probably heard more of them than you know. But have you listened to “Two Man-Music” yet? Well, time’s a wasting.

Andy Bean and Fuller Condon, aka The Two Man Gentleman Band, have an old-timey, upbeat aura that doesn’t fit neatly into any category but their own. A mix of swing, jazz, ragtime and more, their fun, funny, original tunes celebrate a bygone era without copying it. While their rifts often sound antique, many of their lyrics are clearly not from the phonograph era, with themes that range from prescription pills to Indian food.

As Bean put it, they play songs that aren’t afraid to be funny.

“I mean we love this older music and by writing our own tunes sort of in that tradition, I feel like we’re carrying it on,” he said. “And it’s important music to us.”

Clearly. Bean was talking from the road, where he and Condon — called the Councilman — spend a great deal of their time. For the past five or six years, these two haven’t played hard to get with their fans. Instead, they’ve played everywhere, sweeping through many cities on an almost yearly basis. They’ve even been to Asheville many times before, though it’s safe to say this trip is a whole new ball game.

This Saturday night, they’ll be opening for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the wildly successful, Grammy-winning string band. To Bean, the pairing rings true. While the Drops have more of a rootsy, soulful sound, and the Gentleman are much more vaudeville, they all know how to put on quite a show. Both have several records under the belt, but there’s really no substitute for hearing their music live.

“We share a sense of showmanship — and respect for showmanship — as part of what we do,” Bean said.

It’s all about connecting with and truly entertaining an audience, using whatever means they can. For the Chocolate Drops, it means telling stories between songs, and even sometimes beatboxing and flatfooting during them, among other elements. For the Gents, it means always putting on a theatrical, improv-filled, manic performance.

Both Gentlemen morph into amped-up versions of themselves onstage — Condon acting as the straight man to what Bean calls a “slightly more obnoxious” version of himself. This unscripted mini show is no “show business contrivance” Bean explained. It’s more organic than that.

“We’ve always believed it should be fun and entertaining to see us play music,” he said.

The fun has changed over the years. In the beginning, when they were first honing their act in as street performers in New York City, it meant always wearing heavy, dapper suits, even in the summer. They’re more relaxed now, sometimes appearing with rolled-up sleeves and khakis, showing that even a gentleman sometimes needs to dress for the weather.

Another big change has been with their instruments, namely the introduction and subsequent fading away of the kazoo. In their early stuff, the world’s most simple wind instrument made such a frequent appearance that they used to give them out for free at their shows. Audiences were instructed to play along during appointed moments — directions that were often touch-and-go. Bean explained that the bigger (and drunker) the crowd, the better the chance at least one person would keep “bleating away” on the kazoo. The breaking point came a few years ago when they did a tour through England.

“And pub culture and kazoo playing — and kazoo-playing restraint — do not go well together,” he joked.

So, don’t come to Saturday’s show expecting to get in on the kazoo-playing action, but do expect to still have fun. As simple as it might sound, that’s the real heart of the Two Man Gentlemen Band.

Some people believe that good music has to be “serious and brooding and confessional,” Bean said. “And we don’t subscribe to that notion.”

And their growing number of fans are all the happier for it.

For more information about and tickets to the Gentlemen’s Saturday show with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, visit www.theorangepeel.net or call 225-5851. For more information on The Two Man Gentlemen Band, including their hefty touring schedule, visit www.thetwogentlemen.com. Their most recent CD is “Two At A Time.”

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