The Two Man Gentlemen Band -- Andy Bean and Fuller Condon -- plays old-time, vaudevillian swing music using banjos, guitar and upright bass. The hard-touring band formed in the early '00s when the pair were students at Columbia University; guitar-and-banjo man Andy Bean spoke with City Paper while preparing for the current tour.
Let's start with the obvious question: Why only two of you?
[When] we started off, we were trying to put more of a rock band together, and we couldn't really find a drummer. So we decided to start just playing, the two of us. We always loved old-fashioned swing music, and old-time country and rockabilly, so we said if we're gonna be doing the two-man thing, that sounds better than us trying to be a two-man rock band. And then when we went to choose a band name, we were so proud of our duo-ness that we chose "The Two Man Gentlemen Band." So we had no choice but to stay a duo forever.
And I guess that also means you have to remain gentlemen.
Well, technically we just have to remain a gentleman band. Off-stage, separately, we can behave however we like.
One thing that comes up in reviews of your shows is that people are wary of your band at first: They think it might be a novelty act, might be hokey, might not be good. Do you worry about people's preconceptions?
Since it's the kind of music we love -- and we're still listening to it on CDs, and in MP3 form -- it seems modern to us. We forget that it's not normal for musicians to be incredibly well versed in 1920s and '30s styles. For us it's no different from a folk singer basing their music on The Beatles or Bob Dylan. That stuff's 40 years old; our stuff is just 80 years old.
You have a couple of songs about U.S. presidents. Is that an ongoing project?
Early in our songwriting career, we leaned toward historical numbers, and we've definitely gotten that out of our system. Because we've concluded that nobody, especially us, wants to hear any songs that are vaguely educational. But a song about William Howard Taft, or Franklin Pierce -- those are easy rhymes. "Taft" rhymes with "fat," and he was a big fat guy, and "Pierce" rhymes with "beers," and he was a notorious drunk. It's certainly not a project; I don't think anybody wants to hear a song about Grover Cleveland. We'd much prefer to write songs about, you know, "I like to party with girls," or something.
You guys played some dates on the 2009 Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson tour?
Yeah. It was magical. It's still not entirely clear to me how we got 'em, but we got 'em! I read recently that even if it's just for a night or a few nights, Bob Dylan doesn't allow anybody on the bill that he doesn't personally approve of. So I guess in some amount, Bob Dylan has personally approved of us.
How did the rest of the crowd like you?
The people who go see Bob Dylan shows now, I think, are appreciators of American music. They were very receptive. And Willie Nelson was on the bill, and when we played our song "Me, I Get High on Reefer," people just went bananas.
THE TWO MAN GENTLEMEN BAND with THE ARMADILLOS, ELLIOT SUSSMAN. 9 p.m. Wed., Aug. 24. Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $8-10. 412-682-0177 or www.thunderbirdcafe.net