A couple years ago, I saw one of the singers for Two Cow Garage, Micah Schnabel, play a solo acoustic set at a small show in a Portland basement venue. I brought a couple friends along and explained that Schnabel was a singer-songwriter guy. I realize now that my friends were expecting some kind of pleasant, mild evening of guitar strumming and Fleetwood Mac covers. But Schnabel sang, wailed, brandished his guitar and threw himself around like he was fronting a punk band in front of a crowd of hundreds, instead of at a small club where the audience sat a couple feet away from the microphone. "Whoa," said one of my friends afterward.
In these days where rock and country are dominated by bloodless milquetoasts trying to appeal to ironic modern culture, it can be jarring to come across musicians who don't hold back. The Ohio-based Two Cow Garage, which Schnabel formed in 2001 along with gravelly voiced bassist Shane Sweeney, presents a backwoods-barroom-poet lyrical sensibility, backed with slow-burning alt-country or driving punk rock arrangements. While this isn't supposed to be a country band, the great country tradition of self-recrimination is inherent in everything Two Cow does. Feeling guilty, but wanting to crack another beer and find trouble anyway—it makes sense now why this band meant everything to me in my identity-crisis-ridden college days.
- Two Cow Garage
More than a dozen years after forming, Two Cow Garage is partying even harder, as is evident on 2013's Death of the Self Preservation Society. This is probably the most fast-paced, boot-stomping, cohesive work the band's ever put out. "I just never learned to fake it, all we have is sincerity," Schnabel sings on the album's title track. I don't need this band quite as much as I did in my wayward youth, but Two Cow Garage still makes me want to fight and/or make out with everyone.
Two Cow Garage plays the VFW on Tue., June 3, along with Monks and the Mothers and Birds Mile Home. 9 PM. $6/$8 for ages 18-20.