Thursday, September 22, 2005

Fleshtones - beach bummer

So I wrote up this little advance thing for the Fleshtones a couple a weeks ago when they were due to hit Newport RI the Friday night following a couple of Boston area appearances. There was a Thursday night gig at TTs, then a Friday morning live set/guest deejay spot on my radio show, the Late Risers Club.

When I called up Peter Zaremba Thursday afternoon to confirm they were still up for playing, he was upset. Turned out the band's drummer, Bill Milhizer, had been admitted to the hospital for what later turned out to be exhaustion. This cancelled the shows for the weekend. Sad, but it was important that Bill should get better. Saturday afternoon, I got a message from Peter letting me know that Bill had been released and was recuperating.

So, what follows is the advance piece for the show that -- after nearly 30 years -- should have finally put the Fleshtones on the map in Newport RI. They will be back. Enjoy.



Fleshtones promise a wild ride

Fri., 9-9-05
Area Venue, 3 River Lane, Newport


When New York rock 'n' roll veterans The Fleshtones come to Area Venue in Newport on Friday, they will be fighting for a beachhead.

The soul-infused garage rock act with nearly 30 years under their belt will be making their first visit to the city on the early leg of a tour in support of their 13th album, "Beachhead," released last month on the Yep Roc Records label. According to the band's farfisa-wielding singer, Peter Zaremba, they plan to win the hearts and minds of their new Newport audience the best way they know how - by taking it to the stage.

"No matter what happens, we'll have a good time," Zaremba said of their battle plans during a phone interview last week. "We don't believe in recognizance, we just go in. It could be a recognizance-in-force, as they used to say. We're just gonna go in and do what we do, all guns blazing, and I think everyone's going to have fun. I'm going to have fun. I can't imagine the situation where it wouldn't be fun. The people who are there will be amazed, and the people who weren't will hear from their friends that are amazed. And then there will be a next time."

The Fleshtones' battle cry is a primitive rock sound that channels the garage and R&B ghosts of the early 1960s, exhorts some 1970s proto-punk demons and rattles the bones of the many torch-bearing stalwarts who have gone down in the fight in the two-plus ensuing decades. The band used to include a horn section, but since the late 1990s they have stuck to the core of four, which includes Zaremba, founding guitarist Keith Streng, ex-Jason and The Scorchers bass player Ken Fox, and longtime drummer Bill Milhizer.

Based on the dozen or so times this writer has seen the band live, "all guns blazing" by Fleshtones standards can quickly create a wild, sweaty affair for the band and audience alike. It usually doesn't take more than a song or two before Zaremba is out in the crowd, tambourine in hand, crooning away and enticing everyone to shake it loose with him. Streng and Fox have wireless guitar setups that allow them to strike out on their own (whether parading across bar tops or out into the street) and Milhizer has been known to adjust his drum set to allow for at least some mobility.

Their heroes are the best and brightest of the should-have-been-huge class of R&B and rock 'n' roll: The Yardbirds, Sam the Sham, Sam and Dave, The Stooges, The Flaming Groovies, The Seeds, Lyres, Question Mark and The Mysterians, The Hoodoo Gurus ... the list just goes on and on - and they've covered hundreds of them, too.

But if their latest recorded salvo is any proof, The Fleshtones are no mere cover band. "Beachhead" is a 12-cut collection of originals (13 if you buy the vinyl version for you collectors out there) that clocks in under 30 minutes. It starts with the Zaremba-penned "Bigger And Better."

"That's the most Boston-style straight-ahead rocker," Zaremba said. "We started off and we were doing what we were doing in the very beginning, 1976, but it was a little lumpy, even a little artsy, almost. (But) after I saw (Boston bands like) the Real Kids and DMZ and all these other bands I said, 'Oh man, forget it, we just have to purify what we're doing and stop panty-waisting around and just rock out.'"

"In a certain way, 'Bigger And Better' is also kind of The Fleshtones doing The Hives doing The Fleshtones doing The Stooges, you know what I mean?" Zaremba added. "It's all part of the same greasy ball of wax."

The Fleshtones flirted with fame and fortune in their early years (some of their earliest material was put out by long defunct major label IRS Records), but they never quite "made it" like some of the punk kids who shared stages with them in seedy dive bars would (anybody remember the Police?). Thing is, unlike a lot of their more fortunate early '80s peers, The Fleshtones never went away, and instead kept toiling in the underground, cranking out records, and gigging regularly in the U.S. and Europe. They have been there all along for almost every single garage-rock revival, in other words, and while all the band members fall into the "mid-century" demographic, there remains some measure of hope for success that keeps the band chomping at the bit.

"We were watching certain other bands (like The Hives) going to the bank on this kind of music, and we wouldn't mind a little of that. Why not?" Zaremba said. But he does remain skeptical that - despite some recent press they've gotten from National Public Radio - "Beachhead" might prove to be their Lucky 13. "Could be," Zaremba half-heartedly agreed with a laugh. "All the songs are pointing towards, ah, towards something. Hey, you know what? I don't care. I think this is a great record, man."

This underscores the real reason why The Fleshtones have kept at it for all these years - they love making music together.

"It's still fun," Zaremba said. "There's a certain desire for vindication, right? But also at this point, why stop? I mean, really, it's crazy. We like each other, we enjoy playing together, so why stop?

"What we need to do is go out and get some converts," he added. "I don't know if it has to be done with some violence or what, but we've established a beachhead, it's precarious, but we've established it. We're holding that beachhead, baby!"

The Fleshtones will guest-deejay and perform Fri., Sept. 9, on WMBR 88.1 FM in Cambridge on The Late Risers' Club with host Tim Kelly. The program runs from 10 a.m.-noon and is available live on the web at (audio links are listed under the "Listen" tab).