The Two Man Gentlemen Band is a blast from the past—your great-grandparents' past. Hot jazz and swing is the duo's bailiwick, and they convey the genre's heyday snazzily outfitted in crisp white shirts, suspenders, bow ties, straw bowlers, and jackets even in the hottest months of the year. Four-string guitarist Andy Bean and bassist Fuller "The Councilman" Condon cast a pleasantly anachronistic spell over audiences with smart stringband music, which the duo began playing on New York City street corners in 2005.
In six years, the Two Man Gentlemen Band has released as many full-length discs of up-tempo ditties with titles like "Croquet Playing Girl," "Fancy Beer," "The Hindenburg Disaster," and "Heavy Petting." Like your music rich in puns, free of melancholy, and full of historical details? This band's for you.
"For us, the process of putting out a record is relatively easy since there's just two guys playing," Bean says. "And since we do so many shows, we're very well rehearsed. So when we want to make a record, we just book a couple of days in the studio, go in, and three days later, we walk out with a record."
The songs on TMGB's latest disc, Dos Amigos, Una Fiesta, released in August, cover timeless subject matter abundant in the band's material: dancing, partying, and three consumables appropriate for touring musicians of any decade (chocolate milk, wine and reefer).
In true Gents style—a fondness for double entendre and a mix of wild imagination and subtle humor that can leave a listener doing a double take—Bean mentions one of the creative ideas he and Condon have concocted during long drives: a book of food and beverage recipes, which, despite the description, is not necessarily a cookbook.
"The idea is that we don't try the recipes out, we just kind of write them off the top of our heads," Bean says. "If people want to try them out, they can." Based on their food-related songs, mixed results are to be expected. "I think our chocolate milk recipe, if you go by the song, is: heavy cream and cocoa beans—that doesn't sound very good—and amphetamines."
The recipe book may or may not come to fruition, but the Gents did carry out one of their schemes earlier this month. Bean and Condon sent everyone on their extensive mailing list a paper postcard communique delivered by that embattled and increasingly obsolete government agency (which might end up in a TMGB song someday), the United States Postal Service.
"It's a little token of appreciation for the people who've supported us," Bean says of the old-school fan-club missives. "At the same time, we learned why people just send out promotional e-mails instead, because it takes a while to address and stamp and print out 500 postcards."
Despite their cultural atavism, the Two Man Gentlemen Band doesn't rebuff modern technology; they communicate via Facebook (where fans thanked them for the postcards), Twitter, and their entertaining blog, which over the years has chronicled the demise of their not-so-trusty vehicle, the Gentlevan. In early January, the venerable van broke down on the same day as Christabel and the Jons' van. Bean says the two bands exchanged commiserating text messages.
"It is true that misery loves company," he says. "Sitting in our broken-down van, it made it a little easier to know that they, too, were sitting in their broken-down van. And having to spend lots of money as well."
Mechanical difficulties won't keep them off the highway, which brings them through Knoxville a few times a year ("Wherever we're going, it always seems to be on the way," Bean notes.) Their schedule is increasingly busy with weddings—gigs originally requested by fans and now enthusiastically touted on their website. But you won't find footage there.
"I'm glad we don't have recordings of most of [the weddings], because sometimes it's requested that we play covers that are not in our genre. There was a particularly interesting version we did of ‘Let's Get It On,' the Marvin Gaye classic, which is, needless to say, not in our musical wheelhouse. But we got through it, and the bride and groom were very happy."
And happy audiences around every corner will keep these Gents playing music like it's going out of style.