I’ve never seen Austin’s Asylum Street Spankers before last night’s show at the Allgood Café but I had heard plenty about them; an all acoustic ensemble that plays ragtime, blues, country, jazz, swing and seemingly anything else they can cram into their spirited, genre-defying, multi-instrumental performances.
They brought their current 6 piece lineup and a wide assortment of instruments- guitars, banjos, mandolin, ukulele, saw and one of the more elaborate rub-boards ever constructed. And they played the hell out of them.
They started their show with violinist Sick asking the audience to please turn off their cell phones and refrain from conversation. The crowd was happy to oblige, the Allgood being one of the few places in town where the audience usually keeps the chatter to a minimum and focuses on the music.
The focusing part was easy- the Spankers would be a pretty tough act to ignore. They play tight arrangements with precise harmonies, impressive vocal gymnastics, fun subversive lyrics while slamming down the beers and making it all look very spontaneous.
Part of the appeal is the divergent personalities trading off leads- from rub-board and harmonica player Wammo, with his stoner-cowboy comedy schtick to Christina Marr’s earth-mother-meets-sultry-lounge singer persona to Sick’s animated punk stage presence and Stefan Grappelli-like fiddle riffs; they kept the surprises coming through two sets and an encore.
The first set was heavy on new songs from their latest “kid’s” album, “Mommy Says No,” mixed in with a few older audience favorites like their cover of Black Flag’s “TV Party,” and “Wake and Bake,” a fun little homage to getting stoned before you get out of bed.
They cleverly worked in references to Black Sabbath, Harry Nilson, Led Zeppelin and even a few lines from The Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died.”
After a break they seriously got the groove going during the second set.
They had the crowd singing along on “Winning The War On Drugs,” played a beautiful cover of Led Zep’s “Dazed And Confused” with Christina on vocals and saw and tore the crowd up with Wammo’s C&W-gangsta rap fusion piece, “Hick Hop.”
While Christina, Wammo and Sick took turns hamming it up out front and keeping things very interesting, Guitarist-vocalist Nevada Newman, Bassist PB Shane and drummer Scott Marcus backed up the mayhem with solid playing and a variety of sound effects.
These guys can really play.
Other highlights of the night were a foray into politics: “Stick Another Ribbon On Your SUV,” Sick’s fun rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” and for an encore, their sing along anthem ”Beer.”
Initially, they gained a reputation for playing completely unplugged after, the story goes, someone forgot to bring the PA to their very first gig and they went on and played anyway. As of late, they’ve been mic-ing the vocals with those little wireless mics you wear on your head. They don’t turn it up very loud though, so the instruments don’t get lost in the mix.
If there was one drawback to last night’s show it was the low volume.
And the only time that became a drawback was when you went out on the patio for a smoke, a time honored Allgood tradition (well, for me anyway). On the patio last night you could watch through the window but you really couldn’t hear what was going on inside.