Rock duos have proven themselves to be a great lineup alternative throughout modern music’s patchy history. As far as band configurations go, late 60’s hard rock did the most to strip things the band dynamic to their bare essentials: voice, guitar, bass, and drums.
Power trio’s like Nirvana or the Jimi Hendrix Experience have managed to create a large panoramic sound, while still allowing space for the said sound to breathe. But to some musicians even a trio was restrictive. These bands have managed to cut everything down even more, to the point where anything more than two musicians is superfluous.
Today we are taking a look at some of the greatest power-duos in alternative rock. Granted, we acknowledge that some of these groups may have included additional musicians in live environments. Furthermore, bands like Ween or They might be giants, were not taken into consideration. While they do present themselves as duos, their additional cast members have had an important impact on their sound and output.
Most of the bands mentioned on our list tend to prefer the guitar/drums set up, but there are some exceptions. Without exception, all of these bands prove there’s a great deal of sound to come out a duo alternative rock combo.
1. Two Gallants
Brilliant guitar/drums rock duo from San Francisco taking elements of folk-punk and those of traditional American music. Like a few other bands on the list, Two Gallants has a bit of an obsession with the blues tradition and old-time imagery.
The sound of the group is defined by the fingerpicked chords, the raspy vocals, and the complementary drums. The band has made five full albums and is a highly respected group that has achieved cult status.
2. Royal Blood
Royal Blood became the toast of the town in 2014 when they released their self-titled debut album. The band prefers the voice-bass/drums set up, with the bass sound itself treated through different effect pedals and giving the group a sound as large as any other rock band on the festival circuit. The band has received commercial praise with their album charting in many countries. There was also appreciation from their peers, with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) singling them out as one of the most exciting bands today.
Critical excitement for the group somewhat decreased following the release of their second album How did we get so dark? The band continues to be a big draw, especially in their native UK. Meanwhile, fans of their earlier output, wait anxiously hoping for the band’s discographic magnum opus.
3. Death from Above 1979
Death from Above 1979 became a highly influential band i alternative rock with their first album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (2004). It was their only record for almost a decade. Their punk-rock sound with dance influences has been quoted by many bands since then. Because of this, the band’s return with an album in 2014 with The physical world was greeted with a lot of excitement by fans of the group.
4. The White Stripes
Possibly the most famous of the rock duos, the Detroit band, the White Stripes became well known first as part of the “garage revival” sound that was popular at the beginning of 2000s.
Working over the minimalist drumming of Meg White, Jack White used blues, country and garage rock as a foundation for their music. It also helped that the band was well promoted, with the red-white color patterns featured in their clothing and logos, the mystery of the relationship of the two members and continuous spreads in music magazines.
The band seemed to enjoy an almost continuous commercial and critical success. Despite this, they announced their break up in 2011, with Jack White continuing to be active solo as well as in the Raconteurs and Dead Weather.
No plans of reuniting the White Stripes have ever been seriously entertained by Jack White. The band’s legacy. however, is safe and sound. With each subsequent years the mythos of the White Stripes grows larger, and the prospects of the duo performing together get slimmer.
5. The Kills
The Kills is an Anglo-American indie rock duo that received a lot of press attention, especially in Britain. Their sound was compared to the Velvet Underground, and like the White Stripes they have taken influence from blues music as a foundation to their minimalist sound.
Jucifer is a rock duo with a sound inspired by doom and sludge metal. The band has earned a reputation through their constant touring and have garnered a cult following.
The original power duo, where the sound was definitely larger then the sum of its parts, Suicide made electro-rock music, described by the band members as blues for New York kids. Hearing their debut album for the first time is certainly bound to be an experience difficult to erase from one’s brain.
Author Nick Hornsby singled out the song Frankie Teardrop as a song one should hear in its entirety at least once in one’s lifetime. Although basing the band’s sound against synth sounds, the group’s music and the sound were as aggressive as the toughest of any of the punk groups around at the time. The band’s influence on alternative music cannot be overestimated with countless bands taking a queue from Suicide.
7. Black Box Revelations
Black Box Revelations is a group from Belgium that plays garage rock and manages to make a great, big, exciting riot of a sound with just guitars, drums and vocals. The band enjoyed good reviews throughout their career and continues to tour, especially throughout Europe.
8. Dresden Dolls
The Dresden Dolls are a duo that became successful in the ’90s with a sound combining dark cabaret with the alternative rock that was quite popular at the time. The group managed to successfully combine influences as wide-ranging as Kurt Weil to Tori Amos, while making music that could be easily accepted and played by radio stations. Girl Anachronism was, in fact, a legitimate hit for the band.
Since then, the band has continued to play and enjoy cult success, as the dark cabaret music scene has become larger and more well known since the Dresden Dolls first started playing.
9. The Black Keys
The Black Keys became one of the most successful rock bands of the new century after having paid their dues for years as a garage rock/blues band. The group started playing as a two-piece, guitar-vocals and drums while covering blues songs or taking inspiration from that tradition. In fact, the band was known to cover Junior Kimbrough and Robert Johnson songs. The reputation of the band grew with each release and hit its peak with the popular 2011 release El Camino. By then the group was using a full group on most live appearances and even band recordings. Still, the group is known to continue to play live in the rock duo format at least for their hit I got mine.
As of 2019, the band still exists and still present themselves as a two-piece unit. Their activity has been somewhat restricted in recent years, with singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach seemingly tired of the blues-rock format. Regardless, when available for live dates, the Black Keys continue to be one the more successful groups around.
10. Ghost Mice
Ghost Mice is an excellent folk-punk band from Indiana, that is known for playing entirely acoustic, un-amplified music. The band embraces a DYI attitude and anarchist political ideals while their lyrics focus on unity and positive attitude towards life.