Pressing the Flesh

Robby and I got back to our roots a few weeks ago, garage band roots that is. We went to see the Fleshtones. Robby shared his thoughts over at Last Fm. I figure they belong here as well. First, my verdict. Maybe the most fun band ever live. Yeah, click the links, go listen to the music.


Since forming thirty-plus years ago at the dawn of the punk era in New York, The Fleshtones are not only still together, but they still bring the Super Rock party to whatever bar they play in. It’s the same classic lineup they’ve always had, except for their “new” bass player Kenny (who has only been with the band since 1992).

Last night at the Spanish Moon, an embarrassingly small crowd of about 40 (which coincidentally seems to have been the median age of the audience as well–I saw lots of old friends from my Here Comes a Regular years) showed up for the masters of garage rock; many bands that count on lots of audience interaction might have felt deflated by the sparse crowd and come out flat. Not The Fleshtones. They don’t depend on a crowd to show up stoked, they instead always create the audience they want, enticing people to the front of the stage, frequently foraying out onto the floor of the club, constantly dancing, playing the whole time. It’s infectious. I don’t like to dance much, but The ‘Shtones have a way of loosening the locks on my joints.

To describe the specifics of their stage show (jumping up on the bar, the semi-choreographed stage moves, guitarist Keith Streng’s high kicks) makes it all seem cheesy and cliched to someone who hasn’t seen them live. Believe me, I’ve seen bands that do all that exact stuff, and they come off cheesy and cliched, like they’re aping the rock star moves they’ve seen. (For example, The Cynics. Nice records, but posers live.)

It’s hard to say exactly how The Fleshtones pull it off, except to conjecture that it’s because they’re not ACTING. They are rock stars in every way that matters, and professional entertainers to the core. It’s not so much that they do things differently from other down-and-dirty bar bands, they do everything that’s already been done better. The only other band of this genre that I’ve ever seen put on a show in their league was The Lyres.

The music, in itself, is competent guitar-and-farfisa garage rock, not significantly different from hundreds of other bands of this type. Listen to their records, yes; but they’re really all about the live show, the bright kinetic energy of which is all the more amazing considering they’re really kind of old. I mean, I first saw The Fleshtones in Baltimore about 1990; they had already been together about a decade and a half at that point. That show was 18 years ago, which is the same amount of time that passed from The Beatles‘ first singles until John Lennon’s shooting. And here we have the ‘Shtones, still bringing it to the stage with the same energy and enthusiasm they had back when I was a kid.

When they last played Baton Rouge, it was 1983. Singer Peter Zaremba promised to be back in another 25 years. “Tell your children,” he urged us. “Tell your children about The Fleshtones.” I would add to that, if you have children, don’t let them see The Fleshtones before you do: trust me, you’ll be embarrassed. And younger folks, don’t skip seeing them because you think they’re old. You’re right; they’re old. But you are guaranteed to have a good time at a Fleshtones show. You’ll leave sweaty, and tired, and grinning.

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