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Asylum Street Spankers make first, and last, stop in Duluth

The Asylum Street Spankers have developed a strong cult following in the past 17 years. They're making their first stop in Duluth as part of a farewell tour. (Photo by Tiffany Snyder-Hofeldt)

The good news is you have the opportunity to see the genre-curious Austin-based band Asylum Street Spankers and potentially become part of their legion of followers.

The bad news is if you like them you're out of luck. The sometimes old-timey, sometimes novelty, sometimes agnostic gospel band is playing its first show in Duluth and apparently its last: a stop on its farewell tour called "Spanks for Everything."

"People still get turned on to the band every day," said the singing, saw-

playing, uke-minding Christina Marrs, who has been with the band from the beginning. "Maybe we'll be one of those bands that get more popular when they break up."

Think: What if Monty Python hosted "A Prairie Home Companion."

The Asylum Street Spankers have been performing an eclectic mix of originals and cover songs for the past 17 years and have developed pockets of loyal fans around the world. They've performed off-Broadway, they've been written up in Rolling Stone and the New York Times and they've been featured on National Public Radio. They play at 8 p.m. Monday at Teatro Zuccone. Tickets are $10.

While they've never signed with a major label, their video for "Stick Magnetic Ribbons on your SUV" (to the tune of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon") has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube.

The band cites travel expenses and the dramatic change in music-buying trends for the breakup. This has meant miles and miles of goodbyes to the venues where they have played and the people they have played for.

Tim Massett is one of those loyal fans. He said he caught the band regularly in the late 1990s when he was living in Austin and the Asylum Street Spankers were performing weekly four-hour gigs at a place called the Electric Lounge.

"It's a collection of talented misfits," Massett said of the group, which has had more than 50 musicians come and go from the lineup.

Massett described shows as vaudeville, classic covers injected with new enthusiasm and novelty songs. He's not the only one who was interested in getting in on the farewell tour. Music fan Chris Marshall discovered the Asylum Street Spankers while reading a British music magazine that called them a mix between R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, a string band that performs 1920s-style music, and the Fugs, a band of poet folk musicians from New York City.

He couldn't ignore that description, bought an album and has seen them perform live three times.

"They're all very skilled musicians and have played with each other for a very long time," he said. "They have a great stage presence, they banter between themselves and the music they play is ... it's hard to describe. But it's like swing jazz from the 1930s meets modern Amsterdam. They're raunchy and funny, and Christina Marrs' vocals are just beautiful."

Recommended if you like Trampled by Turtles and/or Two Many Banjos, according to both Marshall and Massett.

Marrs described shows as intimate. They don't amplify their sound and tend toward more theatrical venues.

"It breaks down the fourth wall and allows for spontaneity and silliness," she said.

This isn't always a good thing: During their first song at a show in Eugene, Ore., a woman climbed on stage and bent herself into an inverted yoga pose then could not be coaxed from the spotlight.

Don't try this one when they play here Monday.

"She had to be dragged away," Marrs said. "It was really disruptive. 'Hey, look at me! I'm part of it!' It was really inappropriate. I'm sure Pavarotti never had to deal with anything like that."

Go see it

What: Asylum Street Spankers

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Teatro Zuccone, 222 E. Superior St.

Tickets: $10

For more from Christina Marrs, go to fun.areavoices.com

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