Still winning the war on drugs.
Asylum Street Spankers
Barrow Street Theatre
Thursday, January 10
After nearly 15 years in the trenches, the Asylum Street Spankers have officially tired of playing “The Scrotum Song.” And the one about befriending Lee Harvey Oswald. And the one about cofounder Christina Marrs’ fatigued womanhood. And “Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV.” (Too bad.) Thus, their two-week run of What? And Give Up Show Biz?, a half-concert/half-tour horror story theater piece, features a quick, brusque jumble of these undesirables, nicknamed “The Medley of Burned-Out Songs.” Perhaps you’ll find this a bit haughty, but really, a quick glimpse of “Scrotum” is all you’ll ever need.
The Austin collective tapdances on the thin line between stunning virtuosity and goofy farce, an eight-person dervish of washboard/dobro/harmonica/clarinet/singing saw/upright bass/violin/etc., minimally amplified for maximum impact. They can rip the hell out of both Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby” and “Beer,” a wry inebriant ode penned by the Spankers’ other cofounder, a hulking, jovial gentleman by the name of Wammo, who resembles the unholy union of Bob Seger and Garrison Keillor, and whose harmonica case has a sticker that proclaims, “Jesus Had a Mullet.” You will like Wammo.
The Spankers are a cult act among old-timey folk aficionados who don’t mind indulging a little bathroom humor and a lot of recreational drinking. (Heineken bottles, quickly drained, figure as prominently as any musical instrument here.) Show Biz is billed as a “musical revue,” but really it’s a normal show, just with a program and slightly longer (and somewhat awkwardly scripted) between-song banter, a litany of harrowing touring-van nightmares and witty asides. (Also, you have a seat.) As “The Medley of Burned-Out Songs” suggests, the band gets bored easily—they’ve dabbled in both a Christmas album and a kids’ album. (Represented here by Wammo’s “You Only Love Me for My Lunchbox.”) This new venture barely qualifies as theater, but the tunes still amuse and astound in equal measure, particularly when Marrs takes over, a volatile vocalist who can impersonate both a foghorn and a sultry mermaid. (“Breathin’” is the jam.) She sounds like Jessica Rabbit looks.
Quick aside for those more familiar with these dudes: Fairly new addition Charlie King weirds me out, from his overalls to his jaunty red hat to his dabbling in Tuvan throat-singing to his relentlessly corny “My Baby in the CIA,” which pushes the band perilously close to Ray Stevens/Weird Al territory. (As does anything from Wammo’s solo record, instructively named Faster Than the Speed of Suck.) These are acceptable byproducts, though, of the Spankers’ delightful schizophrenia, a genial gang of shit-hot players who often valiantly dare to be stupid. Be thankful they’re not yet tired of “Winning the War on Drugs.”
The Asylum Street Spankers will be at Barrow Street Theatre in the Village from January 12th through the 20th.