Sam Carlson and Ilya Gitelman are a two-man band, but putting appearances aside, you could easily mistake them for a five-, maybe six-member act.
The New Haven duo, which goes by Ports of Spain, uses technology to produce the sound of a more expansive outfit: Gitelman utilizes loop and octave pedals, recording multiple sounds at once and at various registers, to assume the roles of lead, rhythm and bass guitar; Carlson, meanwhile, plays keyboards, in addition to being the singer and drummer.
For the New Haven duo, which brings their dynamic live performance to the Heirloom Arts Theatre in Danbury on Friday, Jan. 4, and the Acoustic Cafe in Bridgeport on Saturday, Jan. 5, it's a "pretty terrifying set up."
"There's no room for errors," said Carlson, who grew up in Trumbull. That being said, "Even at our worst, were still pretty interesting to look at."
Indeed, it's hard to argue with Carlson and Gitelman's technical ambition. Their sound isn't exactly straight-forward. Combining elements of jangly, high-energy indie pop and soaring, slow-building post rock, among other styles, Ports of Spain goes a sonic step beyond the two-man band paradigm.
But, given the meticulous effort that goes into producing and arranging a live show, wouldn't it be easier to simply hire a bassist and a keyboard player?
"Maybe, but because neither of us are good at scheduling anything, if we added one more schedule, the whole thing would fall apart," Carlson said. "We're only at the mercy of two calendars. That allows us to do a lot more."
Like, write music, for instance. Since joining forces in late 2010, Carlson and Gitelman have released two EPs: "Winter's Teeth" and most recently, "Oh, Surrender." They plan on recording another EP next year. (The band is soliciting donations for the project via their Indiegogo page.)
As for a full-length album, Ports of Spain eschews the idea. Not only is the consumption of music driven by singles, Carlson argues, but recording a 10 or 11-track album wouldn't make sense for a band that spends a painstaking amount of time figuring out how to play its songs live.
"That's the nature of our beast -- everything has to be so precise for it to work," Carlson said. "We can write quickly, but figuring out how the two of us will play what we write -- that takes us forever."
While precision and planning are important to Ports of Spain, Carlson and Gitelman bonded over much different ideals: experimentation and spontaneity.
Meeting as students at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, the two musicians played in the same Pink Floyd cover band, taking time between takes of "Money" and "Another Brick in the Wall" to "noodle around and do some noise jams," Carlson recalled.
Forming their own duo, the musicians burned through a bevy of band names -- Ghost Dance, Young Dillinger, Asps and at one point, Sam Carlson Fights A Bear -- before a well-received show at New Haven's Lyric Hall pushed them to settle on Ports of Spain.
Aside from taking up a permanent moniker, they decided to take a break from the improv noise experiments and write some legitimate songs as well.
"Back then, in the most literal sense, we were just winging it," Carlson said. "Now, everything is so outrageously planned."
As for the future of the band, Carlson said that "it would be great to sign some sort of a deal, if someone approached us." The two-man band is thinking big in terms of its career -- and it's sound.
Scott.email@example.com; 203-964-2238; http://twitter.com/scottgarg
Heirloom Arts Theatre, 155 Main St., Danbury. Friday, Jan. 4, 5 p.m. $8 at the door, $5 in advance. With The Guru, Suns, Dawnmother. 203-300-5270, www.heirloomarts.org. Acoustic Cafe, 2926 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport. Saturday, Jan. 5, 8 p.m. $5. 203-335-3655, www.acousticafe.com.