There are plenty of duos that may as well stand for the whole band: Lennon & McCartney, Page & Plant, Axl & Slash, the lineage goes on. Even though these pairs tend to overshadow their rhythm sections, with few exceptions, people rarely consider these pairs to be the complete band. Of the Beatles, Zeppelin, and Guns N’ Roses, Guns is probably the only act you struggled to name all the members because there are 5, not 4. Of course, the power duos never stopped existing. Marilyn Manson, Fall Out Boy, and Modern Baseball are all bands that have two distinctive figureheads for their bands.
Even though each of those bands are special and have aspects that make them stand out, there’s a certain credibility to bands that cut the size of those lineups in half. Two pieces aren’t exactly new to rock music, but since the early 2000’s, a band can pull the simple trick of consisting of only two members, and critics are bound to have some sense of respect for it. Now, we can sit here and argue the merits of abandoning a bassist, but the fact of the matter is: most two pieces are pretty good. Here’s a list of the essential two pieces throughout rock history.
Some ground rules:
-A two-piece is any band that only consists of two members, but they may also have a backing band during live performances or in the studio.
-This is limited to rock acts, because if we included hip-hop duos, this would be a novel.
Diet Cig have shown that they can write catchy pop-punk tunes with their Over Easy EP, but they are not releasing a full length until this spring.
the Mountain Goats (Zopilote Machine-Full Force Galesburg)
John Darnielle has grown his project from a one-man show to a full band in the near 30 years since the band’s inception. He was often accompanied by only Rachel Ware or Peter Hughes during the 90’s but even those are more secondary thoughts than being an actual two-piece.
The Front Bottoms (Self-Titled)
Even though Brian Sella and Matt Uychich are the primary members of the band, they’ve always had help, whether it’s their current lineup or Uychich’s own brother. The band is only kind of a two piece.
11. Death from Above 1979
This duo borrows a large amount of influence from blues-rock, and it’s hard to compare them to the likes of The Black Keys or The White Stripes, but DFA 1979 do tend to opt for grooves with punk energy. The howling of Jesse Keeler over melodic basslines makes for a sound distinct from both. While the energy was definitely higher on You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine, The Physical World has riffs easier to dance to, reminiscent of early 2000s blog rock like Black Kids.
10. Matt and Kim
Matt and Kim have a pleasant twist on the common two-piece lineup. Instead of guitar and drums, Matt plays his licks on a keyboard. Even if this combo is somewhat played out the further the band goes, Grand and Sidewalks hold up pretty well. Matt’s voice is also perfect for pop-punk fans that adore a type of whiny yelp.
9. Hall & Oates
John Oates and Daryl Hall have a wide array of eclectic hits. As a pop duo, it’s hard to find anyone who writes hits as great. Even if something like “You Make My Dreams” is loaded with 80’s cheese, “Maneater” and others are timeless pop-hits, where their influence can still be heard in artists like the Weeknd. The crossover appeal lies in great songwriting for songs that could just as easily be on the charts now.
There was a time when MGMT were one of the largest acts. “Kids” was inescapable, as was the Kid Cudi track “Pursuit of Happiness.” Even though the band still makes music, nothing could be as spectacular as the electronic, indie-rock of Oracular Spectacular. The warm production and falsetto may simply serve as nostalgia for a bygone era, but “Kids” is still as irresistible as ever.
7. Tenacious D/Flight of the Concords
When it comes to satire, it’s hard to find anyone as earnest as Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie or Jack Black and Kyle Gass. The only reason that these artists are combined and so low are because they are similarly folk-based comedy duos that veer into a number of other genres. Both do so with a straight face, whether Flight of the Concords are parodying David Bowie’s many styles, or Tenacious D are having a rock-off with the Devil. Even if the joke does get old fast, it’s still admirable. Both bands tackle the tropes of a number of forms of pop-music from hip hop to trying to write the greatest song in the world. Both bands do utilize more than their acoustic guitars, but the focus rarely leaves the main two. Even if both bands may be a little played out, you’ll chuckle from time to time mostly based off of Clement and McKenzie or Jables and Kage’s chemistry.
6. The Black Keys
Just like The White Stripes, The Black Keys’ style of blues-rock borrows from 70’s rock and pioneers of the genre. The biggest difference is that The Black Keys write songs that are a bit more fun. Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach seem more like partying blues fans rather than Jack and Meg White’s artistic integrity. The only White Stripes song that holds a candle to The Black Keys in terms of crossover-appeal is “Seven Nation Army,” but The Black Keys wrote “Gold On the Ceiling” and “Howlin’ For You” both of which would later influence the immensely popular Arctic Monkeys. Even though The White Stripes write better song, The Black Keys have more fun, and Jack White can’t stand that.
5. Dresden Dolls
Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione are more like a theatre-troupe than just a band. Palmer often sings like she’s playing the lead in a musical, and the accompanimant tends to follow. The rotating array of instruments is also seperate from most standard two-pieces where each member mostly sticks to one instrument, with little variation. The band’s barnd of baroque-pop is so irresistible for theatre-geek Tim Burton fans. Palmer’s overblown emotions are perfect for fans of early 2000’s emo pop-punk like My Chemical Romance. Even the more stripped back moments like “A Night at the Roses” are overtly theatrical.
4. PWR BTTM
Like their former tourmates, Dresden Dolls, PWR BTTM bring a theatricality to the two-piece. Both Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce dress in drag while bringing face-shredding power-pop. The part that’s most interesting about the duo is that it’s not shocking to see Hopkins put down their guitar and play drums on a song and vice-versa. The topic of songs range from shitty relationships to gender-politics, and it’s often performed with a smirk. “Ugly Cherries” has all the flair of hair metal, but then tracks like “I Wanna Boi” have the sense of humor and shyness of emo. As the band prepares for their second full length, Pageant, it seems like they have nowhere to go but up.
It’s hard not to love Japandroids. They write simple drinking songs, bigger than “Born to Run.” Brian King’s nostalgic cries of “Give me that night you were already in bed/said, ‘fuck it.’ Stayed up and drank with me instead” are ideal for pounding PBRs with your best friends. David Prowse has also come into his own as a drummer on their third LP, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, most notably on the title track. Japandroids are like a blender of everything good in rock music, and give you a fully-revitalizing smoothie.
2. The White Stripes
Jack White has reached a point in his career where he’s entered into the classic-rock canon, and The White Stripes are the main reason for that. Even though, his solo work is good, and The Raconteurs are great, and The Dead Weather are okay, none of those bands wrote “Seven Nation Army.” People sing White Stripes songs without even knowing who wrote them. White’s chemistry with Meg White is absolutely manic. The band are raucous bringing an energy to their bluesy songs like on takes like “Little Cream Soda” or “Astro.” The band also reserve themselves when necessary like on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” or “We’re Going to Be Friends.” The band can also shred through covers like “Jolene” or “One More Cup of Coffee.” With just guitar or piano and drums, The White Stripes write more fleshed out, full-sounding songs that most bands.
1. Simon & Garfunkel
They just don’t come like Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel anymore. As a simple folk duo, they wrote fun pop songs (“Mrs.Robinson”), dark, depressing numbers (“The Sound of Silence”), nostalgic, political tunes (“America”), and future graduation songs (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”). Simon’s songwriting abilities paired with Garfunkel’s gorgeous harmonies made the band all the more memorable. Even though the band often had other accompaniment, the core is just their harmonizing voices and acoustic guitar. Even though a large scale reunion of the two seems unlikely, Paul Simon often performs solo and continues to expand his sound.