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: The Lost Crusaders and the Mike Edison Space Liberation Army at Lakeside, NYC 12/18/09

Looking a little pale and thin and fresh off a morphine drip (don’t worry, he’ll be fine), Lost Crusaders frontman/harmonica player Michael Chandler and his steady guitarist Johnny Vigneault were wrapping up their six-week-or so duo residency at Lakeside. Vigneault sat, stomped his foot and blasted the increasingly packed back room with a reverb-laden roar while Chandler, eyes tightly closed, slammed a tambourine against his leg and ran through a bunch of the garage-gospel songs that are the band’s specialty. The style was different, but the feel was totally R.L. Burnside or T-Model Ford  – it could have been a shotgun shack in the Mississippi hills. Midway through the set, they ran through the soulful What Have You Done, a standout track from their 2007 album Have You Heard About the World that features a fantastic Laura Cantrell vocal.  The whole thing went on nonstop for almost an hour, with a few oldschool spirituals amped up for good measure.

Early shows at Lakeside are a rare enough event, doublebills even more  so. Chandler’s old 80s Raunch Hands pal, Mike Edison, inventor of  the Bongcaster and author of the hellraising memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go brought his Space Liberation Army: Dean Rispler on bass, Hollis Queens of Boss Hogg supplying a supple, laid back drumbeat and Jon Spencer wailing – and tossing off a couple of perfect Hendrix quotes on lead guitar. Edison ranted and railed, occasionally punching a soul organ riff on his Nord Electro or lashing at his theremin to emphasize a point. Although drinking what looked to be straight bourbon, he didn’t miss a beat, only occasionally referring to a cheat sheet as he gleefully recounted tales from a booze-and-drug-soaked past or savaged the right wing, Jello Biafra style as the band snaked along behind him. His story of one particularly crazy one-off Raunch Hands gig in Spain was impossible not to smile at, especially when after that show, the band discovered that although the folks who’d hired them had left them a copious bagful of drugs, the cocaine was all gone. Predictably, pandemonium ensued. “What if I crush up some of these [unidentified] pills and snort them?”  a panicked Edison asked his guitarist.

“Nope, I already tried,” was the response.

Another long rant snidely revealed the truth about Jews for Jesus: they’re not Jews, they’re really rightwing Christian nuts who want all the Jews to convert so they can bring on the Rapture (presumably, that means nuclear war, or at least something Halliburton can use to get rid of all that nasty waste from their nuclear power plants). The crew closed with a careening salute to first amendment rights, drug legalization, alcohol and porn – and the criminalization of daytime tv (this is right about where all the very strong two-for-ones started to kick in and the memory gets fuzzy). Edison’s site doesn’t have any upcoming shows listed, but watch this space: you ought to see him sometime.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 7/16/07

People were dancing. Hardly worth mentioning, except for the fact that the venue is in the heart of Trendoid Central, where it is strictly verboten to crack a smile or, heaven help us, move your ass. A few weeks ago it was a mostly Israeli crowd here, testament to Rev. Vince Anderson’s ecumenical appeal (he’s a real ordained minister, with credentials from the Universal Life Church if memory serves right).

The Rev., as he’s best known, is something of a New York institution, a charismatic, frequently mesmerizing performer and keyboardist who surrounds himself with like-minded players. Tonight, in addition to the rhythm section from groovemeisters Chin Chin (including the redoubtable Torbitt Schwartz on drums), he had his usual main weapon Moist Paula Henderson (frontwoman of the excellent instrumental trio Moisturizer) on baritone sax, as well as trombonist Dave Smith and TV on the Radio guitarist Jaleel Bunton. With his gravelly voice, jumping around and wailing on his Nord Electro keyboard, the Rev. was in a particularly boisterous mood tonight. His newly svelte physique may come as something of a shock to those who haven’t seen him lately, but he hasn’t lost any of his usual energy.

One A-list New York rocker recently remarked that the Rev. and his band are something akin to Phish playing gospel, and that’s could be true in the sense that they jam the hell out of pretty much everything they play (although there’s absolutely nothing cutesy about them). They opened with a cover of Ben Harper’s Power of the Gospel, rearranged with percussive verses building to a slinky, jazzy chorus. They followed with a rousing, authentically vintage, 60s-sounding Come to the River, from his latest album 100% Jesus. The Rev. had just returned from his native California, where he’d baptized his new nephew and was clearly amped from the experience.

Since the Rev.’s shows are about more than just the music – he’s a preacher with an uncommonly strong social conscience – he took time to address the crowd as the band launched into the chords to a long, hypnotically psychedelic version of his song Deep in the Water. “We can talk about baptism and the healing power of water…and you know how hot it is in Fresno, when you get off the plane? It was 122 degrees when I got off the plane. I’m not exaggerating…not the misery index, it was fucking 122 degrees! Fresno used to be the agricultural capital of the world. This is where you got your fruits: you get that nectarine from the deli, and it says from California? It comes from Fresno. Raisins, Sunmaid raisins? Fresno. Asparagus, Fresno. Anything you want green or fruity comes from Fresno.”

Sensing the Rev. winding up a tribute to his hometown, the band picked it up for a second, but he brought them back down. He wasn’t finished. “Every time that I come back to Fresno, I see all this beautiful land of my childhood, these beautiful fig groves and orange groves, and I see an apricot field and a vineyard, and lately they’ve all been torn down to put up these cheap, cheap tract houses, and they name the tract of the house after the crop that used to be there. So there’s a tract of homes called Fig Garden, and a tract of homes called Orange Grove, and another tract of homes called Raisinville. And this year, I don’t like to be apocalyptic – I’m not an apocalyptic preacher – but I have to figure that pretty soon people are not gonna want to give water to Fresno anymore. And all these Raisinvilles are just gonna be ghost towns and then they’ll miss their water.”

From there, the song built to a hypnotic, warm vibe, something akin to the Stones’ Moonlight Mile with lots of Rhodes-y electric piano from the Rev. Using his tone controls, he gradually worked his way up to an eerie, distorted setting as the band went quiet and ended on a somber note. The next tune was a country gospel number with a swing beat, featuring solos around the horn: first trombone, then baritone sax, then piano, and predictably, the Rev. stole the show with some delicious honkytonk playing. Then they brought it down to just the bass.

Their deliberate, crescendoing take of the blues classic John the Revelator began with same minor key groove that the Rev. uses for his big audience hit Get Out of My Way, and became an audience singalong directed from the Rev.’s pulpit behind the keys. “When you say ‘John the Revelator,’ you can’t do it like this,” the Rev. instructed his parishioners, struggling to fasten the top button of his shirt and making a poindexter face. In a second, he’d undone the button and a couple below and roared the line at the audience. This time they got it and roared back. The first set of the evening came to an end with a jam into a fast, shambling version of Ease on Down the Road, from the Wiz soundtrack, the Rev. pounding out some nice Billy Preston-style funk fills. This guy raises the bar for live performers: when he’s on, it’s hard to imagine anything much more exhilarating. Tonight was a prime example.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments