Sunday 8 June 2014

The Fleshtones at The Camden Underworld June 03rd with The DeRellas & The WitchDoktors

The Fleshtones by Paul Slattery
I first became aware of The Fleshtones after seeing them in the "Urgh! A Music War" movie back in the early 80's which was a must-see at the time as it featured a cool selection of alternative bands such as Dead Kennedys, The Cramps, Magazine, The Go-Go's and XTC amongst many others. There was something about the dimly lit performance of the superb "Shadowline" with it's danceable Garage Rock beat and some wicked harmonica that really appealed to me. So, I got hold of their debut album "Roman Gods" and was mightily impressed. However, right up until last Tuesday I had never seen The Fleshtones live in all those years. It was a combination of things I guess, but they rarely seemed to play in the U.K. Anyway, finally here was my chance, and despite their reputation as one of the best live acts around I was desperately hoping that I wouldn't be disappointed. I needn't have worried, in fact the only downside was the lack of people there to experience what turned out to be one of the best performances I have ever had the good fortune to witness. 

The Fleshtones by Paul Slattery
So, it was a small but extremely enthusiastic crowd that warmly greeted the band as they came out kicking, and I mean that literally as the band launched into "Hitsburg USA" with a high-kicking routine that nearly took out the entire front row! Straight away there were smiles all around as the band radiated a quite remarkable blur of multi-coloured energy. There was barely a break in the music for the whole duration of the gig, each song seemed to merge seamlessly into the next. The strap-line of Joe Bonomo's excellent book about the band "Sweat" goes "30 years, 2,000 shows, no hits, no sleep" and considering that was published in 2007 they are now pushing closer to 40 years of constant touring for little commercial reward. However as the youthful looking Keith Streng spins out the riff to "Feel Good To Feel" from the great "Take a Good Look" album, it's amazing to see the sheer joy in the eyes of the band themselves. If they harbour any resentment at never making any big break-through then they certainly don't show it, in fact you get the feeling that this could almost have been their first ever gig as they attack it with such joyful enthusiasm. 

Peter Zaremba of The Fleshtones by Paul Slattery
"Do you feel good?!" asks Peter Zaremba as the band start spinning around on the spot, "This is the spinning wheel of talent" he says and they blast into the powerful 2 minute "What You're Talking About" from their excellent brand new album "Wheel of Talent" which highlights Peter's gruff baritone voice perfectly. Bassist Ken Fox takes over lead vocals on "Let's Go!", a song he wrote for the "Laboratory of Sound" album and Peter plays some of that great harmonica. Ken is a relative "new-comer" to the band and also the youngest at a sprightly 53 years old, joining in the early 90's following some pretty impressive footsteps as previous stand-in bassists included Andy Shernoff from The Dictators and Fred Smith from Televison. It's his crunching bass line that introduces "Haunted Hipster", the first of two tracks from the "Mondo Zombie Boogaloo" album, a Halloween themed collaboration on Yep Roc Records with Southern Culture on The Skids and Los Straitjackets.
Ken Fox of The Fleshtones by Paul Slattery
It's Keith's turn on lead vocals as the busy Peter Zaremba switches to the keyboards and next up is the singalong "(Sock It To Me Baby) In The House of Shock". The pace slows slightly for the soulful groove of "Dance With The Ghoul Man" which gives us chance to catch our breath before one of the highlights of the night. A familiar drum intro from Bill Milhizer who I notice is playing standing up, then Keith plays a one note solo with his right hand and raises his left in the air, followed by Peter and Ken and then we all join in. Amazingly, so does Bill and he's not only standing up but he has his left hand raised too, he's playing the drums standing up, one handed and he's still not missing a beat, unbelievable! But what comes next really made my jaw drop, Keith and Ken lock arms and somehow both end up playing each others instruments, they move around the stage, it's quite a mind-blowing sight and really great fun. Then it's into "Theme from The Vindicators" which is closely followed by a rocking "Alright" from "Do You Swing?" and an instrumental version of The Beatles "Day Tripper" with the band ending up in amongst the audience again, it made me think that they should just abolish stages at Fleshtones gigs as the band seem to spend most of the gig in the crowd!

Keith and Ken swap instruments - Photo by Paul Slattery
The Fleshtones, like the Ramones, were originally formed in Queens in New York and they became regulars at CBGB's, playing their first gig at the legendary venue in 1976 and next up is the brilliant "Remember The Ramones" which takes us back in time to the Bowery when "The Clash and the Pistols didn't exist..." and it "was very loud and Suicide attacked the crowd..." It's a great tribute, not just lyrically but they also nail the Ramones sound perfectly too. "I Was a Teenage Zombie" has a great fist-in-the-air singalong chorus and the band just keep up the relentless pace with a cover of Teenage Head's Power Pop classic "You're Tearing Me Apart". A scorching "Pretty Pretty Pretty" is unfortunately the only track taken from the excellent "Beachhead" album, one of my favourites. 

Keith takes flight - Photo by Paul Slattery
I was hoping to hear "I Am What I Am" and "Bigger & Better", but with such a massive back catalogue of great material I guess something has to give. Then there's probably the first break of the evening but that doesn't last long as the band quickly return for an encore and the wonderful "American Beat" leads into a crazed cover of Led Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown". Keith is on lead vocals for this one, well that is when he's not leaping off chairs or indeed carrying one into the crowd to climb up on and continue playing. So, finally I made it to my first ever Fleshtones gig and what a gig it was! The band are certainly consummate show-men and fine purveyors of good time Rock 'n' Roll that's guaranteed to raise a smile and get you dancing along. Their infectious enthusiasm and humour is only matched by the sheer quality of their songs, and I sincerely hope that I get the chance to see them again a hell of a lot sooner.

The Fleshtones backstage at The Camden Underworld - Photo by Paul Slattery
As if The Fleshtones weren't enough, there was also the rest of the night's impressive bill. Opening up the evening were one of our favourite acts, The WitchDoktors, who treated us to a raucous set of their perfectly formed blend of Clash-tinged Punk and raw American Rock'n'Roll. So many of their tracks would be perfect jukebox singles in their own right, they have a knack of spinning out some real classics. Opening number "Movie Star" and other tracks from their faultless "$3 Hooker" album such as "Told You To Go" and "Knock Me Back" should be regulars on the radio, whether it be mainstream or not. Crunching versions of earlier tracks such as "I'm Sick" and "Neck Tattoo" just go to show that the band are building up a pretty impressive back catalogue of their own. 

The WitchDoktors by Paul Slattery
The WitchDoktors will be headlining the next Retro Man Blog night at The Half Moon Putney on Friday July 18th along with King Salami & The Cumberland 3 and The SuperMinx'70. The last two Retro Man Blog nights sold out completely, so be sure to book your tickets in advance from here

The WitchDoktors by Paul Slattery
Next up, The DeRellas are an energetic cocktail of Glam with some sleazy New York Dolls style Punk thrown into the mix. They are promoting their new album "Slam! Bam!" which you can get hold of from Closer Records here. The band get the crowd warmed up nicely for The Fleshtones with "Everything Jaded" and "She's A Pistol" my personal highlights of a well received set.

The DeRellas by Paul Slattery
For more information on the excellent book "Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones" by Joe Bonomo please check out the official Facebook page here or Joe's "No Such Thing As Was" web-site here.

You can see more photos of the gig by heading over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook page and hitting "Like" for access to the exclusive photo album. With many thanks to Paul Slattery for the excellent photos and to Zig, Joe, Andy and Tony. All photographs copyright Paul Slattery 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Paul, great photos and a great reminder of an excellent gig!!