I am about to start the last day of Austin Psych Fest 2013 and I have a lot to say about that, but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the show I saw on April 20 at the Swan Dive by Boston bands Jaggery and Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys — one of the most psychedelic shows I’ve seen in a long time.
It was an amazing show. My only regret is that there were not more people there to see it.
I enjoyed the hell out of both bands, but the highlight for me was Walter Sickert. He was wearing a kind of feather head dress, big sunglasses, dreadlocks, and a wedding dress. Kind of like a demented Dr. John. He joked several times about being on acid. As the night wore on, I came to the conclusion that it was somewhere between plausible and likely that he really WAS on acid. “Stop fucking with me. I’m on a lot of acid! My home town is blowing up while we’re on the road. Fucking terrorists! But it happens…”
Most surprising thing was how good the music was. Stylistically, it was mostly acoustic, reminding me a bit of the Asylum Street Spankers. It featured a drummer, melodian/accordion, bass violin and viola (played by the musician from Jaggery). There were dark cabaret influences, but at times, they rocked as hard as Jimi Hendrix. At one point the singer from Jaggery joined Walter in a song that included an excerpt from the song, “Love and Marriage.”
One song really got hold of me and brought chills — and end of the world song called “28 Seeds.” Here it is:
It was even better live.
“Devil’s in the Details was another great one”:
One of my friends exclaimed, “I’m in their fan club after that.” I felt the same way. I will definitely be purchasing some of their music online. I got a big kick of of their closing song — the Ghostbusters theme. “I went back in time to the ’80s to write this song,” Walter said. There were a few lyrics I didn’t remember from the movie. “If a ghost tries to fuck you in the eye, who ya gonna call?”
Jaggery (appropriately named after Indian brown sugar) features Mali, a wonderful singer and pianist with incredible power and range (she kind of reminds me of a less scary Diamanda Galas), harp, viola and string bass.
Their music was powerful and dramatic. reminiscent of acts like Rasputina and the Dresden Dolls.
Some of it is incredibly beautiful.
One song which seemed to be about witchcraft, got kind of screamy (hence the nod to Galas), but it I found it really moving and chill-inducing. Mali joked that it probably scared the country bumpkins in Victoria when they gave a free show earlier. She took back the part about bumpkins, but she was probably right. I grew up in that area and kinda was a bumpkin at one time. It’s good for folks around there to experience something strange and different once in a while.
Still a couple hours left to 420 Day, the unofficial day in March when all pot smokers make an effort to light up on the same day. I’m not one of those – the one and only time I tried the stuff I did too much at once and got sick as a dog. Never again.
At the same time, I’ve had a lot of friends who do smoke and being a music lover I can’t help but notice that Weed is a rather huge influence on many of my favorite artists. I also happen to think the War on Drugs has been an unmitigated disaster, giving us nothing but powerful gangsters, corrupt officials and highly militarized police. And in Mexico a lot of chopped off heads.
Time to face facts and legalize it. All drugs really, but especially marijuana, even though I’ll never take another puff. This article in Forbes sums up my thoughts on the matter pretty well: Let’s Be Blunt: It’s Time to End the Drug War. Will we ever have leaders with enough honesty and courage to actually do what obviously needs to be done? Not optimistic, but one can always hope.
In the meantime, might as well appreciate some of the great songs we never would’ve had without marijuana. At some point, I’ll go whole hog and list a ton of songs about drugs, pro and con. There are so many.
First on the list has got to be Winning the War on Drugs by my recently disbanded favorite live act, the Asylum Street Spankers of Austin. They captured the cynicism of that particular war pretty well.
Followed by the very obvious and to-the-point Legalize it by the late Peter Tosh.
Ever mix foods that don’t sound like they should go together and find out they really really do? Like peanut butter ‘n’ banana sandwiches? Sounded weird at first, but trust me, it’s a combination that was meant to be.
I recently discovered a musical example: The Chubby Knuckle Choir, a band with a funny name and an even stranger combination of styles, with members from Bastrop, Cedar Creek, Elgin, Waco and Liberty Hill.
It’s almost impossible to pin down their sound. Americana doesn’t quite do it. Blues, bluegrass, country, rockabilly, Cajun, R&B, funk… They’re all part of the mix. It’s such a weird combination of styles, but it sounds rootsy and natural, like folk music from a country that never was, but should’ve been.
The band has five members: Rory Smith of Elgin on vocals and percussion; Perry Lowe of Bastrop on percussion; Tres Womack of Waco (formerly of Bastrop) on guitar and vocals; Slim Bawb Pearce of Cedar Creek (by way of Sacramento, California) on mandolin and other stringed instruments and vocals and Dave Gould of Liberty Hill on string bass.
The percussion is a bit unusual, with Rory pounding on congas, scratching on a frottoir (rub board) and at times a Jew’s harp given to him by his Swedish mother-in-law. Perry plays a Brazilian box drum known as a cajón (that doubles as his chair) and an African drum called a djembe.
Each member brings something into the mix — styles, instruments and songs. Tres adds a country music flavor. Slim Bawb adds Louisiana and bluegrass influences (although he’s from California). Rory and Perry contribute R&B, funk and soul. Dave Gould, who also plays in the Watts Brothers Band, brings his skill on the bass fiddle.
“People compare us to the Gourds, but I think we’re more unique,” said Tres, who helped kick start the band. He hosted an open mic night that featured Rory and a CD release party where both Rory and Perry turned up to sing harmony. They enjoyed working together so much a musical relationship was born. In time they picked up Slim Bawb Pearce and Curtis Farley (the previous bass player).
“Tres, Rory and Perry had been playing together for a while and they needed a picker,” said Slim Bawb. “I played some slide mandolin and we meshed really quickly. It’s fun to play in this band. We have a lot of harmonies and you never know what’s gonna happen. There’s a lot of improvising going on.”
Slim Bawb moved to Cedar Creek from Sacramento five years ago. Before he became a transplanted Texan, he spent 20 years with a group called the Beer Dawgs, which was inducted into the Sacramento Area Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
Curtis, who owns Twisted Twig Studio, is still involved with the band on the production end. He came up with the name Chubby Knuckle Choir while poking fun at the musicians’ middle age spare tires and chubby hands. The musicians were having a jam session and singing harmonies. “Curtis was picking on us and said ‘y’all look like a chubby knuckle choir’ and the name stuck,” Rory said.
Rory and Perry chose their percussion instruments for two reasons: 1) their cars weren’t big enough to hold trap sets and 2) they provide rhythm without overwhelming the vocals.
Tres also liked the idea of using those instruments to make the band’s sound more unique, and offset his strong country influence. The frottoir was a nod to Slim Bawb’s Cajun influence.
“What makes it work is we all like each other,” Rory said.
The Chubby Knuckle Choir has had its share of local success, performing at South By Southwest in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They have also opened for Austin musician Guy Forsyth, former member of the Asylum Street Spankers at Nutty Brown Café outside of Dripping Springs.
Most of the time they perform at the Lumberyard in downtown Bastrop or in Quoffer’s in Elgin, but they also play in other venues around the state and are slated to play in Elgin’s Hogeye Festival next October.
They are not trying to become a national act — although they are open to possibilities if they somehow strike it big. “We’re all at that age where we have responsibilities,” Rory said. “Perry has a couple of toddlers. If we get a following that’s great, but it’s not on the agenda. We just love what we do.”
The band is working on songs for the debut studio album, which should be finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can buy CDs of their 11-track album “Live at the Lumberyard” for $10. E-mail email@example.com.
The Chubby Knuckle Choir’s next show is at the Lumberyard is 8 p.m. Friday, June 10. The band will perform at Quoffer’s at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 23.
This one may be my favorite:
These are quite impressive as well:
It’s Always Something
The Live Experience
I caught the tail end of one of their shows at Quoffer’s bar in Elgin and went to see them again a few weeks ago in Bastrop in a really cool venue called the Lumberyard (it actually used to BE a lumberyard).
The audience was a mix of old and young who from time to time got up and danced. The band obviously a small but dedicated following (that recently grew by one).
Their set list featured some great original songs, along with some inspired covers. “Freakshow,” “It’s Always Something” “Farmer’s Tan” and “Ethylene” were among my favorite originals.
They did excellent covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” the gospel standard “Jesus on the Mainline” and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” Venue owner Jeff Brister joined the band on trumpet during “Ya Ya.”
Another highlight was Storytelling, a band tradition. Band members take turns telling stories from one concert to the next. The stories are supposed to be true. Rory told one about raccoons taking up residence in his attic.
Every story ends with “and I heard a song on the radio,” followed by a cover song. The one that night was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Never expected to hear a bluegrass version of that, but it really worked.
Very entertaining live show. I’ve been looking for a band to fill the empty place in my soul left by the breakup of the Asylum Street Spankers and I may have finally found it – right in my back yard.
The holidays kept me tied up and January promises to be a busy month as well — I have a move coming up — but I’ll try to squeeze in a few posts. Hopefully after I get moved, I can really buckle down and let everyone know about some of the cool music I’ve been listening to.
WordPress sent me a nice set of stats letting me know my blogging in 2010 was not in vain. Lots of interest in my posts about the Asylum Street Spankers and Wolff the rock ‘n’ roll tuba guy. Check those posts out if you haven’t already.
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 8,300 times in 2010. That’s about 20 full 747s.
In 2010, there were 141 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 118 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 24mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.
I meant to do this earlier… Christina Marrs of the Asylum Street Spankers gave an interview on Twisted South Radio last month. I think she did a good job explaining what the band has been going through and some of the pressures that led them to split up.
Here are a few excerpts:
“The economy’s been rough on the touring band in general. this band’s been together for 16 years. we always made a living. It’s gotten to the point where we’re really not making a living anymore. I guess I would probably rather just spend more time with my family if I’m not going to make a living, you know what I mean?”
“People have a limited amount of discretionary income right now. People who would come out and see us everytime we played… are now going you know what? I’m kinda broke right now… I’ve seen them six times already…. Maybe I’ll just wait till they come back next year.
“The cost of being on the road has gotten astronomical in the last few years. The price of gas, the price of hotels… All that stuff keeps going up while your income just sorta flattens.
“And the industry-wide trend where people aren’t buying CDs anymore, they’re downloading everything. The CD is the touring musician’s bread and butter. It supplements what you pay at the door to go see a band. The cover charge just doesnt’ cover everything. We’re usually dipping into our cd sales to cover the rest of it.. We’ve seen a dramatic drop in people buying CDs. That hasn’t helped.”
Listen to the whole interview. Interesting stuff. She’s very well-spoken.
Well, Wammo sent out an e-mail, letting us know the score about his decision to leave the Spankers. I guess I must’ve signed up for updates on his old website (his new one is wammobaby.com). It came down to him having a new baby and “irreconcilable differences” with the band. Also, Christina said in a recent interview that the band was exhausted from the road and still wasn’t making money. I’m sure that was part of it as well. Wammo is going to go solo under the moniker “Road Dog” and will be promoting his paintings. Below is the e-mail blast message I got this morning. Read for yourself:
I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment from the Spankers over the years and Wammo was a big part of that. I wish him and all the other Spankers success in whatever they do next. Hope they find a way to squeeze some money out of this terrible economy.
Wow, this really makes me sad. I just went on Facebook and saw an announcement that my favorite Austin band is retiring. The Asylum Street Spankers are like nothing you’ve ever heard – retro style, rockin’ sensibility, superb musicianship and funny as hell. There will never be another band like them. I don’t know what brought this about. Could be the bad economy is getting to them. Also, Christina and Wammo both have small children. If it’s what they need to do, then I wish them well. Musicians aren’t actually obligated to wreck themselves for our entertainment. They’re giving a farewell tour and if you get the opportunity to catch one of their final shows I would advise you to take it. Their schedule can be found here.
If you need any more convincing, read my recent post about the band: Asylum Street Spankers’ vintage sound captures Austin’s spirit That post also includes some great Youtube links that will give you an idea what Spankers shows are like, and a link to their Bandcamp site where you can stream Spankers songs or order mp3s or CDs.
Also, check out their albums on Bandcamp.
P.S. I’ve been asked why Wammo is not being listed on the ASS Facebook page. I also noticed a lot of the people who surfed into this blog lately entered search terms like “Is Wammo on Farewell Tour.” I don’t know the answer to that and would like to. If anyone has seen a show on this tour I’d like to know if Wammo was there. I’d also like to know why the band is retiring. I imagine it has to do with Wammo and Christina each having new babies. Maybe they’re all tired of touring and want to devote more time to their families. I can respect that. I just wish the band would let us know what’s up. In any case, I would still recommend catching one of the farewell shows if possible. If Wammo’s not on the tour it would definitely be a disappointment, but I did see one Spankers show when Wammo was out with the flu and it was still awesome. Speaking of which… It has occurred to me that Wammo could be ill. I’d at least like to know that he’s all right. If anyone knows anything, please let me know.
PPS. Saw a comment on the ASS Facebook site stating that Wammo was leaving for family reasons. Probably about what I figured. His wife just had a new baby and probably asked him to stick around and stay off the road. Fair enough I reckon. I will miss him though.
Update: Wammo sent out an e-mail announcing his plans and telling his reasons for quitting the Spankers. I reposted it here: Word from Wammo aka ‘Road Dog’
Austin has drawn me like a magnet for almost as long as I can remember. The culture, with its mix of Texas cowboy brashness and hippy tolerance, is wonderful and totally unique. For a creative type like myself, the live music and open-minded nature of the place is irresistable. I love my state in general as most Texans do, but Austin is the best part for me. It’s like an oasis.
Few bands embody that Austin spirit like the Asylum Street Spankers. The band has become my favorite live act. I’ve seen show after show, each one different from the one before, but always enjoyable. The group takes its name from Guadalupe Street in Austin, once referred to as Asylum Street because it runs by the state mental facility. The term “spanker,” is a double entendre. It can mean a skilled musician, or just exactly what it sounds like. In fact, the band’s entire name is a double entendre. Think about those initials.
It’s hard to describe the band’s music. Styles include swing, jazz, country, blues, hip hop, ragtime, gospel — you name it. The music has a vintage sound, with all acoustic instruments, but the songs are immersed in rock ‘n’ roll lore and pop culture references. The band’s central figures are Wammo, a funny, mouthy dude who looks a bit like a biker, and Christina Marrs, a pretty woman with an even prettier set of pipes who has a demure girl-next-door appeal — but can belt out the raunchiest lyrics you’ve ever heard. The remaining lineup changes a bit from year to year, but always features top notch musicians. Sometimes former Spankers turn up and fill in. It’s almost like a collective.
The Spankers absolutely refuse to be pigeonholed. They’re funny, but they’re not a comedy act, and no way are they a novelty act. They’ve done X-rated albums, a drug album, a children’s album, an Off Broadway show and most recently, a gospel album. You never know what they might do next, but it will always be entertaining. You really have to hear them yourself.
Luckily for me, they’ve made it easy. Most of the Spankers albums are here on Bandcamp. You can stream the songs for free or purchase the albums as downloads, or as physical CDs. I like everything they do, but I especially recommend What? And Give Up Show Biz? because it captures the band’s live sound, which I love.
Some of my favorite songs are “Beer,” from Spanker Madness, “Hick Hop,” from Mercurial and “My Favorite Record” from the album of the same name.
Check out the band’s website: www.asylumstreetspankers.com. You can also order some albums that aren’t posted on Bandcamp, including their X-rated EPs, T-shirts and members’ solo albums. And check out their tour schedule. If the Spankers turn up in your town, go see them. You won’t regret it.
These videos will give you an idea what the band’s live act is like:
Have I ever used the word smorgasbord before in my life? I can’t remember. Anyway, this time it fits. I’ve known about Archive.org for a long time now, but it’s been a while since I visited. Frankly, there’s so much stuff there that I find it a bit overwhelming, but if you ever have a little free time and want to dig around for some musical gems, you can’t ask for a better place. They have a lot of live recordings – some of them surprisingly high quality. Some by bands and groups you know, a lot by people you never heard of. You can search by artist or you can browse. Some of the recordings have been reviewed, which will give you an idea about the sound quality and performance. You can download in a variety of formats – mp3, flac, ogg – or you can stream in a little radio on the page and judge whether you want it or not.
I found some nice concert recordings from Robyn Hitchcock, Sarah Jarosz and the Asylum Street Spankers. Something else I just recently found is a collection of digitized 78 rpm and wax cylinder recordings. You expect those to sound a bit scratchy, but some of them are quite clear. Lots of old ragtime, vaudeville and stuff like that. Just found a singer named Sophie Tucker that I really like. I’m going to spend a lot of time downloading those songs, especially Tucker’s.
Music is only one part of Archive.org, which is a non-profit organization creating a digital library, archiving all kinds of material – art, culture, websites, written material, podcasts, you name it. Kind of like a private, all-digital Library of Congress. I could literally immerse myself in this thing for days at a time.