Do the duo 

Japanther proves that two can be as bad as one

Two-man bands occupy a strange chunk of punk rock real estate. Three people—as in “power trio”—seems to be the minimum occupancy in most people’s estimation of what a band is, and even the eager term “power trio” suggests that bands with less than four members somehow have to compensate for lack of personnel with a surplus of, um, power. Two people can’t be an actual band, can they? Don’t two people just make a duo? Seals and Crofts? Loggins and Messina? Zager and Evans? Buckner and Garcia?

Horsefeathers. That’s what’s so great about punk rock: You can do whatever you want and call it whatever you want. Or not call it anything at all. You can be a one-man band and still put out records, and if you never tour or play live no one need ever know that it’s just you and a Tascam eight-track recorder surrounded by a roomful of instruments and abutted by patient neighbors on three sides. Parking space at practice time never a hassle.

Superiority in numbers often spells safety therein, a neat division of labor with the musical status quo propped up by everyone just doing their part and sometimes nothing more. The possibility of there being a weaker link technically starts at two but really only starts at three and poses the greatest risk from four members onward. Comparatives become superlatives. Weaker links become weakest links.

No such statistical probabilities plague the two-man Japanther, straight outta Brooklyn by way of Olympia, Wash. Japanther raise a mightier ruckus than a lot of bands with twice as many members and big black sound-making monoliths, and it’s obvious to watch them play that they have way more fun doing it than your average clump of stand-around rockers. Boom! Two members means having someone else to temper your ideas with his own (and sometimes vetoing yours), but never having to watch them get committeed to death. Zing! Two members means a testy, and therefore vital, band democracy. Two members means fewer rules. Zap! Two members means if the band’s going to set it off live, there’s no one to look to but you and the other guy, and no standing around counting bars and wondering if he’s done with his solo. Often wrong, never in doubt.

Two members means a couple of guys can meet and become friends while riding their dirt bikes around New York and start playing music together. Hi yo! Two members also means they can both fit their bikes in the tour van and use them to get in adventures on the road. And for Japanther, bikes are just as important as amps and microphones—tools for living, must-have accessories while living the touring dream. Two members means a great Japanther backstory that only two people have to recount with a straight face: Drummer/vocalist Ian Vanek and bassist Matt Reilly are twin sons of a putative carnal union between a Japanese princess and a pantherine incubus.

In short, two is where chemistry starts happening, and maybe there’s something to the suggestion that bands with fewer members try harder after all. Vanek spends as much time stalking around the room wagging the mic in people’s faces as he does behind the drum kit. He’s a bully for audience participation, a sweaty prize fighter playing by the we’re-all-here-let’s-have-a-good-time-dammit-no-clinching Marquis of Queensberry rules. And we’re-all-here-let’s-have-a-good-time-dammit is what it’s all about.

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