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Gimme Asylum: Asylum Street Spankers Come Alive in Chicago

Don’t confuse Austin’s Asylum Street Spankers with the down-into-the-dustbin-of-History neo-/retro-/whatever Swing/Lounge knee-deep-in-sharkskin trend that thrived in the hep urban environs of LA, SF, et. al. in the 1990s. Not that there wasn’t any good music in it Squirrel Nut Zippers and Frenchy were and are still pretty swell but a great deal of it was musically shallow and ain’t-we-HIP style over substance jizz by people who had never even touched or SEEN a Count Basie album. These Asylum Streeters do not present themselves as zoot-suited time travelers just the opposite in fact, looking for the most part deee-lightfully average, nondescript Joe (and Jane) Bagodoughnuts. These 7 cats don’t draw "attention" to themselves, but rather to the music ain’t that nice?

The Spankers from the Asylum took the stage at the fine Chicago club/bistro Shuba’s in front of a packed house. For well over an hour and a half or so, they regaled the attentive throng and they HAD to be attentive, as the A.S.S. perform WITHOUT the aid of "demon electricity," which is to say without amplification or even microphones with an enthralling smorgasbord of country/Delta blues, jug-band, swing and New Orleans jazz and country music. The Spankers perform a mix of ancient tunes and tunes written in the style(s) of 20s & 30s blues/hillbilly/pop tunes, and perform them with plenty of inspired, gutsy flair, élan and irreverent zing. The main problem with many ensembles that draw from the well of pre-WWII music is they usually take one of two approaches: isn’t what we’re playing so quaint and kooky, or we must be RESPECTFUL and treat this music as if it were a museum piece that might crumble if we breathe on it too hard with the one thing both camps have in common being an unspoken assumption that NO MUSIC WORTH PLAYING HAPPENDED AFTER 1956. The A.S.S. respect their source musics AND have make merry with ‘em, and that sense of fun put the audience in the palm of their figurative/collective hand. The visual, carnival- and revue-like jubilation of an Asylum Street Spankers show is best experienced than read about, but some high points can be related here: Christina Marrs’ alternating cutesy/sultry vocals (alternating Betty Boop with Memphis Minnie and Mildred Bailey); Wammo’s mock swaggering macho/redneck boisterousness; Stanley Smith’s warm, reedy, tip-o’-the-hat-to-Jimmie Noone clarinet and gently craggy Hoagy Carmichael-type crooning; and Brent Martens’ back-porch rendition of Bob Dylan’s "Watching The River Flow." DO YOURSELF A FAVOR and when this circus comes to your town, be sure and GO SEE THEM. And to best the blues you can't use, get their new platter My Favorite Record (Bloodshot).

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Asylum Street Spankers
  • Concert Date: 4/26/2003
  • Subtitle: Why not jump into THIS time machine?! (no electricity needed)
  • Venue: Shuba's
  • City State Country: Chicago, IL
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