Let Me Entertain You: Asylum Street Spankers @ World Cafe Live 10.7.09

This marked the fifth or sixth time that I’ve seen Austin’s Asylum Street Spankers. Many things have changed about the band since the first time I saw them some seven or eight years ago. Aside from their trademark rotating lineup, the group was forced to abandon the completely acoustic nature of their early performances in order to play larger, less meticulously-designed spaces. A few overhead microphones now flank the front of the stage, while each singing member wears their own miniature headset. In the two times I’ve seen them since they’ve adopted these technological modifications, the Spankers themselves always seemed to regret the choice, even before squalls of feedback interrupted the performance. To be sure, the show (and the music, of course) is still great, but they’ll have to ditch the electronics to recapture the magic of their heyday.

This night’s show was the first on their ‘Salvation & Sin Tour,’ a new pair of sets put together to show off material from their new release, God’s Favorite Band. Though the group has used that title since their inception, they embody it with the ‘Salvation’ set of original and traditional religious songs. Naturally, anyone familiar with the Spankers’ bawdy songstylings will raise an eyebrow upon hearing that the troublemakers have found religion. Rest assured that these aren’t your bible-thumping spirituals: Wammo‘s “Volkswagen Thing” alludes to the almighty microbus, and guitarist Nevada Newman gives a rendition of the Violent Femmes‘ “Jesus Walking On The Water.” Wammo, Nevada, Christina Marrs and new mandolin player David Long harmonized on “It’s Gonna Rain” (which, unfortunately, does not appear on the new album) before a Spanker favorite, “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie,” acted as a bridge to the next set’s less holy subject matter.

Up until this tour, most Spankers shows consisted of two ‘Sin’ sets. While they certainly could’ve rehashed some live staples, the Spankers took the opportunity to show off some new, not-quite-religious songs. Wammo’s ode to “PBR” and Nevada’s “Fuck Work” injected some rip-roaring humor, and Christina’s “Swan” showed off one of her most fascinating musical talents: coaxing a melody out of a hand saw. It wasn’t all new stuff, as old favorites like “Asylum Street Blues” and “Monkey Rag” made their umpteenth appearances. The Spankers often save their showstopper for the encore, and this night was no different. Several years ago, the band started playing Bob Haggart‘s rhythmic jazz experiment “Big Noise From Winnetka,” and it became an instant crowd-pleaser. Bassist Morgan Patrick Thomas downed a Yuengling as drummer Mark Henne rattled his kit and the bass’ strings with his sticks, and Wammo whistled through it all. A rousing chorus of “Beer” closed the evening,

Though they continue to make incredible music (both live and on records), the Spankers really need to consider ditching the microphones. Not that larger rooms wouldn’t benefit from a few minimal overheads, but smaller rooms (like World Cafe Live Upstairs) are definitely manageable (The Guggenheim Grotto played a few songs from the crowd, and Robyn Hitchcock did so Downstairs). If they feel like it’s a strain on their voices and fingertips, then maybe they could just unplug for their next tour. It’s an idea!

Click the picture at the top of this post to see more of the Asylum Street Spankers in concert!!

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~ by E. on October 13, 2009.

One Response to “Let Me Entertain You: Asylum Street Spankers @ World Cafe Live 10.7.09”

  1. Here are some video samplings of the Spankers from World Cafe Live. Great review.
    Spankers Live!

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