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Review: The Asylum Street Spankers

I saw the Asylum Street Spankers last night at the Mucky Duck with Steve Patlan and Michael Croft. The show was a release party for their new CD, My Favorite Record, and as an extra added bonus the lineup featured original Spanker Guy Forsyth.

It’s tough to categorize the Spankers. They started out as a ten-person band, of which everyone but the drummer and bassist took turns on lead vocals. As such, their early work spans a wide range, mostly oldtime jazz and blues. Now, with the core band essentially reduced to three original members (Wammo, Christina Marrs, and Stanley Smith) plus one more recent addition (Korey Simeone) and occasional guest appearances by Forsyth, their sound is more a focused whole rather than an agglomeration of random parts. Not that it’s any less anarchic, especially in the live shows, it just sounds more like a band that plays together all the time.

I see the Spankers every time they come to Houston, and I never know what I’m going to get. I just know I’m going to like it. I liked it so much last night that I stayed with Michael for the second show (the Duck often does two-show nights for big draws like the Spankers).

They started off with a Spike Jones-y version of “Some of These Days”, then Wammo got the crowd rolling with his paean to beer (called “Beer”, simply enough). With Forsyth present, they reached back for some old material, including “Deep Ellum Blues” (from the sadly out-of-print Spankers Live CD) and the melancholy “Hometown Boy”. They put a twist on Marrs’ “Got My Mojo Workin'” (from the also out-of-print Live in Europe CD) by accompanying her vocals with a single guitar and four of the men singing doo-wop backups. A big treat was the reappearance of “Fanny”, which had gone into hiatus with the departure of original member Mysterious John, now performed by Korey. You can hear a Real Audio sample here. And of course, there was the Muppets classic “Ma Nah Ma Nah”, which is really just an excuse for Stanley and Wammo to scat sing. When Wammo scats, he quotes Led Zeppelin and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, which in turn becomes the world’s only scat singalong.

Much as I like the various Spanker CDs (and I have all of them), they really can’t match the live performances. When Wammo does “Hick Hop” from his solo CD, he has to do it acoustically, which is how I prefer it, plus you get to see Wammo and Korey do a bunch of silly gangsta rapper moves. They really ought to do a concert video one of these days so they can capture that on tape.

This was a CD release, so several songs from that CD were featured, including “Breathin'”, “Wammo’s Blues”, “Antifreeze”, “Mountain Town”, “A Minor Waltz”, and the sure-to-be-a-classic “Whatever”, a song about how to get by in these politically conscious times. I’ll quote the first verse so you can get the gist:

I’ve got to save the world
Liberate
Eat the food that’s on my plate
Recycling is really great
Whatever I can do
To get in bed with you

Again, the advantage of the live shows is seeing the oh-so-sincere facial expressions on Wammo and Guy while they sing this number. When Wammo tries to look earnest he resembles a serial killer, which only makes the whole effect funnier. (Michael promises to have a Blog Critics review of My Favorite Record up soon. I’ll link to it when it’s available.)

The two shows differed only in the encores – the first show concluded with the end-all country ballad “If You Love Me (You’ll Sleep On The Wet Spot)”, off their recent Dirty Ditties CD, while the second show was another trip through the wayback machine as Forsyth and Marrs teamed up for the rollicking “If You Want Me to Love You” from Nasty Novelties followed by Forsyth’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day”, the first cut off the first CD, Spanks for the Memories. Just getting to hear those two songs would have been enough to justify the second ticket, and they were exactly the right ending for a great night.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Spankers are one of the best, funniest, and most original bands out there. In a just world, they’d be richer and more famous than all the boy bands and Britney wannabes combined. Do your part to help them acheive that by checking their schedule and catching a show when they’re in your neighborhood.

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