Can you hear the American sound… Have you heard the American sound …Take a good look at the Fleshtones… March 29, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Demented is one word that springs to mind when thinking about the Fleshtones… exuberant is another. Since the late 1970s they’ve been playing a mutated form of garage rock crossed with psychedelia, blues and soul. For those of you haven’t heard them think of a less early middle-aged, less branded Blues Brothers (whose music I never warmed to) who due to coming up with punk actually learned the value of compact and concise riffs set against horns. The result a brew of surf, psychedelia, garage rock, RnB and a history that paralleled early punk/new wave (from their first and later regular appearance in CBGB’s).
I think I probably purchased Roman Gods and Hexbreaker sometime around 1985 or so. Their Powerstance from 1991 is perhaps my favourite, but I can’t be sure. And by most recent count I must have most of their albums, including Soul Madrid (a very bockety live performance from Spain, sometime in – I think – the late 1980s). Half of it is on vinyl. Which is inconvenient. And I discovered while writing this that one album must have been stolen some time in the mid-1990s. They weren’t remotely political. This simply was about the music and all that the music brings. Or as Robert Christgau noted:
Up-Front [I.R.S. EP, 1980]
I didn’t believe they were nothing but a party until I witnessed them leap out on the NYU stage tossing packs of Camels to the mob, then demolish Nervus Rex in a battle of the bands. And from these five songs you still won’t believe it. Best but not great is “The Girl From Baltimore”–real party city, cross between Philly and D.C., none of which the song implies. Nervus Rex album’s pretty nice. B-
Roman Gods [I.R.S., 1981]
This is where they get the junk-rock down–reckless enthusiasm plus the less stylish strains of late-’60s dance music add up to their own groove. But though it’s hooky and endearing, it’s short on what one might call nuggets, which is why a whole side of unexceptionably jet-propelled tracks tends to lose momentum. In fact, whenever I try to concentrate for even an entire cut, my mind starts to wander, just like with Jackson Browne. B+
You get the picture… But the riffs. They tended to stick. No more so than the central one in Roman Gods which was reprised ten years later on Living Legends…
Somehow, they’ve managed to continue going during the intervening years, releasing albums every year or two to a devoted fan base. I sort of switched off, as one does, in the mid-1990s then returned to find that quality control hadn’t slipped.
And here for your entertainment are some examples of just what their self-proclaimed ‘super-rock’ sound is…
Soul City (a cover from the early days)
The American Beat
On the original version they list some of the stars of the ‘American Beat’ including:
"The fabulous Johnny C, Freddie 'Boom Boom' Cannon, the Inredible James Brown, Roy Brown, Chuck Berry, The 'Reverend' Richard Penniman, Elvis Presley and *all* the Kings of rock'n'roll. Lou Costello, ?, the Illusions, Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly, the Del Vikings, Del Fuegos, Del Shannon, MC5, the Velvets, the Stooges, Louis Jordan, Rosco Gordon, the Raiders and the Wailers, the Kingsmen and the Sonics, the Last, the Unclaimed, the Plimsouls, the Lyres and the Real Kids, the Modern Lovers, Alan Vega, Los Lobos, the Dodgers and the Headhunters too. Mitch Ryders, Ritchie Valens, the Osmonds, the Jackson Five, the Rivingtons, Donna Summer, Martha Reeves, Richard Berry, Berry Gordy, whooo... Chuck Berry and... louielouielouielouie.... come on louie... louielouielouielouie etc"
Which neatly triangulates their influences…
Here from the Pete Buck produced Beautiful Light is
Take a Walk with the Fleshtones
The funny thing is that they have been something of a magnet for name producers and collaborators. Steve Albini produced Laboratory of Sound and gave them a slightly metallic edge. Neither outing with Buck or Albini was bad but neither producer could really channel a sound that was already as full, or otherwise as it ever would be. Or to quote from a perceptive review on Amazon:
At the same time the Fleshtones never made Rock ‘n’ Roll any grander than it was. Unlike Springsteen who infused his brand of R&R with big dreams and a lingering sense of melancholy. Where R&R was the door to ultra coolness for the Punks, to Springsteen it was the door to something bigger, an escape for his small town background. R&R as a means, R&R as a promise, not an end. To the Fleshtones R&R was the final stop. They live to recreate the exitement on the records of Larry Williams, The Kingsmen, Lee Dorsey and Link Wray. The Fleshtones never aspired to anything bigger, be it a fleeting sense of cool or the realization of bigger dreams. The Fleshtones simply wanted to be R&R and indulge themselves in the accompanying lifestyle of sweaty parties deep into the night, raving live shows, sex & drugs.
In a way they remind me of Hawkwind, individual songs are great, albums, sometimes a bit less so. So it’s with something approaching awe that I see their latest offering Take A Good Look at the Fleshtones is gaining considerable plaudits from admiring reviews in the NME and – almost unbelievably – the Independent. They recently toured with the Sonics (a genuine – and fascinating – casualty of the years before the years of zonk) and swung by Europe. France and Spain, being countries with a variable but undeniable appreciation of certain aesthetics, took them to heart decades ago. England… not so much. Ireland. I don’t think I know of any people beyond my immediate circle who knew about them other than in passing.
And that’s a pity, because they’re a gregarious bunch of people.
I’ve seen them twice. Once in Manitoba’s on Avenue B in Manhattan in the late 1990s. Manitoba’s is owned by Handsome Dick Manitoba (himself something of a legend, to those of us with long memories, as lead singer with the Dictators… ahh… the Dictators), and despite it being a limited space they did the whole spiel. Dancing on the bar, through the crowd and back again. Then again in 2002 in a fine American Polish venue in Williamsburg (Death Cab for Cutie were playing the next week in the theater attached, and probably getting a crowd five times as big – go figure…). They were great and a group of us wound up having some powerfully strong Polish beer with them at the bar. Bill Milhizer, the drummer, recounted how they’d once toured with the Undertones back in the late 1970s or early 1980s and his memory of them was of them sitting around drinking milk – something he’d never seen adults do en masse before. Punk, how are you? What struck me was how open and friendly they were, particularly Milhizer and Pete Zaremba, and more than willing to sit and talk to a bunch of expatriate and tourist Irish about music and stuff.
There’s a book out about them by Joe Bonomo. It’s called Sweat, which seems appropriate. And while I tend to avoid such things (some hideous crimes against the English language have been committed in what are laughably termed ‘music books’) this is one I have purchased…