In the business of music writing, it’s easy to get inundated with information. CDs are shipped in, electronic press kits arrive for bands passing through town on tour and publicity reps clog up the phone lines with requests for review. Whether the music is any good, though, is anyone’s guess. Last week, someone plunked a DVD on my desk, ready for my viewing pleasure. The accompanying press kit was my first introduction to the Asylum Street Spankers.
Not really sure what to expect, I took Re-Assembly home and made myself comfortable. The photo from the press kit depicts a woman holding a ukulele surrounded by six men with various instruments, including a banjo, steel guitar, washboard and violin (or is it a fiddle?). I pressed play and was greeted by a warning: “Wait! This is a three-hour, seven-minute movie. Do you have enough beer, weed and snacks?” Well, no, I had none of the above, but I proceeded anyway.
The Asylum Street Spankers looked poised to perform on the back porch of a Texas lake house. After a brief intro reminding the audience to keep it down (the Spankers are entirely acoustic), they opened with the appropriately named “Monkey Rag,” followed by a heartfelt ode to beer. In that old ragtime style, Christina Marrs and Wammo, both founding members of the Asylum Street Spankers, proceeded to blow me away.
I called Christina Marrs a few days later to find her recovering from a late night in Boulder, Colo. She and the rest of the Spankers were on their way to Los Angeles. “You don’t see a lot of humor in music any more,” she said. “There’s this idea that if there’s anything funny about it, it’s not ‘serious’ music ... that anything humorous is a novelty.” It’s a misconception the Spankers try to disprove whenever possible. “We have a vaudevillian aspect. You can only really get away with humor if your audience is fully engaged in what’s going on.” Like when a recorded performance from two years ago has you under its spell for three hours and seven minutes? I told her they’re doing just fine.