tastes in music reflect its status as one of the world's most technologically
advanced countries, a significant audience also exists for purely acoustic forms
of music. The much-anticipated Japan debut tour of America's determinedly
acoustic Asylum Street Spankers-which touches down at Club Quattro on Saturday-provides
a chance to look also at some of the better acoustic roots acts here.
to the pre-electric Dixieland jazz, blues, ragtime and swing of the early 20th
century, the Spankers insist on performing without amplification, imparting a
down-home feel to their concerts that helps puncture the barrier between performer
and audience. The group formed in Austin, Texas, in the mid-'90s, naming
themselves for a street in the city that runs by an old mental hospital, and the
old jazz meaning of the word "spank" to describe someone who plays
Their refusal to use amplification was not born out of any
sense of purism, however, but a chance occurrence at their original concert. "Whoever
was in charge of bringing the PA didn't bring it, but we decided to play
anyway," banjo player Christina Marrs recently told the Asahi Shimbun.
"It worked so well that we stuck to it."
A shifting collective
that's seen some 30 members move through the band, the Spankers are now
consolidated around Marrs, vocalist and songwriter "Wammo," and
clarinetist Stanley Smith. The lineup also includes a fiddler and mandolinist
in addition to the customary guitar, bass and drums.
Japan-only compilation for Buffalo Records, Sideshow, provides a window into the
Spankers sound, which runs from faithful versions of classics like "St.
James Infirmary" to irreverent acoustic covers of anything from Prince
to the B-52's.
Also performing without amplification are Little
Fats & Swingin' Hot Shot Party, an irrepressible Japanese sextet who
recently warmed up the crowd with a set at Aoyama Cay before French Gypsy guitar
virtuoso Romane's set. Dressed in vintage sailor outfits that evoked a
pre-war atmosphere, Little Fats and his crew of banjo, guitar, washboard, washtub
bass and violin played loving and expert tribute to the jug bands and "skiffle"
sound of a now-vanished American South. They can be heard on the album Fat a Wonder
World on Get Hip Records.
Also appearing that day were Kiyoshi Kobayashi
and the Gypsy Swing Gang. An unassuming, balding middle-aged man, Kobayashi proceeded
to astound the crowd with his ukulele expertise, showing mastery not only of Gypsy
music but also of the Hawaiian idioms more commonly associated with the diminutive
Any mention of the ukulele must also touch on the current darling
of the instrument, Hawaii's native son Jake Shimabukuro, who tours Japan
at the end of July with an appearance also slated for the Fuji Rock Festival.
An occasional visitor to Japan in recent years, the "Jimi Hendrix of the
ukulele" has brought newfound interest to the instrument through the sheer
virtuosity of his playing. Just 26, Shimabukuro has repeatedly claimed the top
Hawaiian music awards and has just released Crosscurrent on Sony, an album whose
name captures the musician's fusion of traditional Hawaiian music, jazz
The Asylum Street Spankers play
Shibuya Club Quattro on June 29. Little Fats & Swingin' Hot Shot Party
play Crocodile on June 28 and Shibuya Eggsite on July 19; Kiyoshi Kobayashi plays
Kannai John John on June 29 and Akasaka Mitsuke on July 13; Jake Shimabukuro plays
Fuji Rock Festival and Akasaka Blitz on July 29-30. See concert listings for details.
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