Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Lucid Culture Interview: Wammo of the Asylum Street Spankers

The Asylum Street Spankers – the world’s funniest, most irreverent (and many would say, best) oldtime Americana hellraisers are playing the Bell House at 8 PM on January 9 – tickets are going fast, get ‘em while they last. Wammo, the Spankers’ singer, washboard player and one of the group’s several resident wits took some time out of his busy holiday season to answer a few questions about the show and the band’s new album:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: Your new cd God’s Favorite Band is just out. How much if any rightwing backlash has there been? Did Oral Roberts issue a fatwa against you before he croaked?

Wammo: Did Oral Roberts finally die? Remember back in ’87 when he announced that God would kill him if he didn’t raise a million dollars? That guy was a genius.

LCC: OK, is there a tally of pissed-off atheists? Or do they realize that like all the other styles of roots music that the Spankers play, it’s just classic Americana, really not so much of a divergence from your other stuff?

Wammo: I think you answered that one yourself, so I’ll ask my own question to all of the atheists out there. If you were standing on an icy sidewalk and down by your feet was a steaming cup of hot chocolate and as you were reaching down to grab the delicious beverage, your pants split, making you jerk, rip your shirt open and slip on the ice, only to plummet and land chest first into the boiling confection, horribly scalding your areola but enticing a little puppy to scamper up and begin licking the hot chocolate off of your heaving nipple, how could God not be the force that didn’t make this scenario not happen?

LCC: Is it rude of me to ask about your own spiritual beliefs, upbringing and/or lack thereof?

Wammo: No, I don’t think it’s rude at all.

LCC: One of your originals on the album asserts that God drives a Volkswagen Thing. I was pleasantly surprised to see that you’d do a song about a VW Thing, let alone that you’d make it divine – and that you’d make the connection to the Nazi WWII vehicle which it pretty much was a carbon copy of, with a little bigger engine. Why a VW Thing, instead of, say, a Beetle, which floats and therefore could be construed as walking on water?

Wammo: Back in the ’70s, Volkswagen created these ridiculous commercials that depicted VW Things painted all kinds of crazy ways: flags, starscapes, rainbows, etc.. Even as a little kid, I knew that they must have found a cheap way to get the old Nazi jeep back into production. I’d be watching The Dirty Dozen and suddenly a commercial would come on with hippies riding around in the same ugly-ass jeep that Lee Marvin blew up only seconds before. I figured God would want a little anonymity when visiting earth, so God would pick the ugliest car for cruising around. Hence, God drives a Volkswagen Thing. The joke, explained.

LCC: What’s the inspiration for the other original of yours, Right and Wrong? Is that a Bush War era song or does it go back further than that?

Wammo: I think the concept of right and wrong goes back further than the Bush administration but it’s so hard to remember…  I wanted to write a song that showed the absurdity of the “my God is right” mentality. I intended for it to go in that direction but it ended up becoming confessional. It’s like being in such a hurry to get your shoes on, you don’t realize that you’ve tied your laces together.

LCC: What’s the genesis of this album? Was this a deliberate attempt to make another thematic live album a la What? And Give Up Show Business?, or did you just have the tracks kicking around and figured, holy smokes, we can get another live album out of this?

Wammo: The whole thing was planned out — booking, rehearsing and playing the gospel shows, hiring someone to record the shows, buying new gear, having Christina [Marrs, the Spankers’ frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist] learn how to use the gear and then mix the record. She did a great job, don’t you think?

LCC: Um, if it’s ok with you it’s ok with me. Seriously, though, I like the album a lot. So what can we expect from you at the Bell House on January 9? Are you doing a straight-up gospel show or are you going to air out a few fan favorites? At least the Medley of Burnt Out Songs?

Wammo: This is the Salvation and Sin tour, the first half is stuff from the new gospel record and the second half is all of the dirty, nasty, secular stuff. We give you redemption and follow it with madness. If you think about it, that’s the way it usually works in real life. Show starts at 8 PM.

LCC: After this album and this tour, what’s next for the Spankers? Or has the big G not told you yet?

Wammo: We’ll be heading to Europe and Japan this year but believe it or not, we’re cutting back on touring. There’s a new album already in preproduction, so we’ll be recording sometime this year. I’ll be doing some solo gigs and Fringe Festival stuff. I did a one-man show at PS 122 in Manhattan and I’ll be touring that soon. Last time I called the big G, I couldn’t get past the automated menu, “If you’re in hell, press one. If you’re on Earth, press two. If you’re having an existential crisis, press null…”

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December 28, 2009 Posted by | interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Larkin Grimm and Martin Bisi at the Knitting Factory, Brooklyn NY 12/27/09

 Larkin Grimm’s solo show last spring at the Delancey was a dazzling display of imaginative vocal technique. This one was a lot more accessible, a mix of lush, smartly arranged, often rustic and unabashedly sexy songs. What Grimm does is closer to an update on folk-rock bands of the 70s like Fairport Convention, but more stark and sparse. Alternating between a miniature harp and acoustic guitar and backed by a concert harpist, two violinists (one of whom doubled on keys and then mandolin) and former David Bowie bassist (and producer to the stars) Tony Visconti playing some really excellent, interesting four-string work, Grimm was a strikingly down-to-earth presence even as her songs took off into artsy territory. The strings fluttered and flew off the beat as the harps’ lines interwined and Visconti moved from minimalist metronomic lines, to graceful slides, the occasional well-chosen boomy chord and even some harmonics. The songs ranged from the lush, dreamy, pastoral number that opened the show, to a sultry cabaret-inflected song about a hooker, a disquieting number inspired by “finding [your] inner child while fucking,” a one-chord Indian-style tune done with Visconti on recorder, another hypnotic song about waking up in a cornfield and having to dodge tractors, and an understatedly fiery retelling of a Greek myth about Apollo skinning some poor guy alive. That one Grimm wrote, she said, after she’d paid a visit to Dolllywood (she’d snuck in, too broke to pay for admission), thinking about her own disastrous experiences in the music business. She closed with a translation of a Hafez poem cast as a crescendoing anthem where a woman goes to bed with a guy, takes off her clothes and decapitates him. “But isn’t that…philosophy?” she asked, deadpan.

Martin Bisi played the first half-hour of his set as a suite, segueing from one part to another by frantically laying down one searing loop of guitar feedback on top of another.  This time Bisi’s band had lead guitar, bass, drums and a caped crusader wailing frantically on what sounded like a little Casio running through a million noisy effects, sharing the stage with a woman whose graceful miming quickly became the show’s focal point. In a strange twist of fate, Bisi, like Visconti, is best known for producing great albums for famous bands (Sonic Youth, Herbie Hancock, the Dresden Dolls, ad infinitum), but ultimately it’s his songwriting which is his strongest suit. This evening’s numbers had a distinctly early 80s, East Village feel, sort of Nick Cave as covered by Blue Oyster Cult, ornate and haunting but also with a sense of humor that ran from cynicism to unaffected amusement. About halfway into his suite he ran through the mythology-based Sirens of the Apocalypse (title track of his excellent 2008 album), barrelling through the lyrics without a pause to take a breath. A more recent track, Drink Your Wine came off with an irresistible sarcasm, a word of warning to a lightweight; a dedication to his daughter, far from being mawkish, was a dark garage rocker evocative of the Libertines but tighter. They finally closed their set with a big riff-rock anthem that threatened to burst into flame after it had finally gone out, but it didn’t. The audience wanted more but didn’t get it.

December 28, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment