LIVE: The Fleshtones @ the River Street Pub, 3/8/15
Review by Ross Marvin
Photographs by Ed Conway
The unfettered, unfiltered cool of the Fleshtones…
Here’s an America that’s nearly impossible to imagine: Andy Warhol has a TV show on MTV. On the show is a garage revival band called the Fleshtones. They play a sinewy, melodic dirge and their young, statuesque singer Peter Zaremba flips his long bangs across his forehead as he taps a tambourine. Then, in the foreground of your not-so-flat TV set, appears a pre-Gandalf, pre-Magneto, but no less magnetic Sir Ian McKellan. He starts reciting a Shakespearian sonnet. No, I’m not having a bad trip. Here’s the proof, just one click away in YouTube land.
Hard to believe, right? MTV, and not a pregnant teenager in sight.
Warhol’s dead, and MTV has replaced “Music” with “Morons,” but one thing remains constant — the Fleshtones are still unmistakably and essentially cool. On Sunday’s sweaty matinee show at the River Street Pub in Troy, Zaremba, guitarist Keith Streng, stick-man Bill Milhizer (the local boy done good), and bassist Ken Fox’s Wheel of Talent spun Troy’s winter wool into the pure gold of “Hitsburg, USA!” Among the many highlights from nearly 40 years of rocking on labels as fabled as I.R.S. and Yep Roc, were the frat-rock numbers “Pretty, Pretty, Pretty” and “Way Down South” that featured glitter-guitarist Keith Streng on lead vox (Zaremba gyrating catlike to the Farfisa or harmonica or into the crowd as hype man: “What is this Cohoes? Let’s make ‘em hear it all the way in Colonie. This is Troy!”).
Though the band is always recording the next single or album (their website says they just recorded sides for Norton as part of that great label’s ongoing Rolling Stones covers project!), these old boys are still touring on 2014’s Wheel of Talent album. The guys spun in synchronized rock n’ roll circles all night, Zaremba blindly picking which of the full-time men would step to the hot mic next.
Perhaps all that has changed over the years is technology — and thus the Fleshtones no longer have to worry about tripping on their guitar cables. Equipped with wireless gizmos, the band found its way into the crowd on almost every number, even going out the front door on the Fox-led “Let’s Go.” Later in the set, Zaremba urged the crowd to “Get on down” between his practiced posturing. Meanwhile, Streng never hesitated to stand on a chair or wrap his guitar behind his back (or underneath a leg) for a frenzied solo in the center of a cell-phone camera circle. It was true punk rock as the line between audience and participant was blurred behind drunk goggles. Audience participation went as far as bringing the crowd on the stage—local drummer extraordinaire and dynamite record clerk Brian Goodman took over tom-tom duty late in the set as Milhizer continued to work the snare, cymbal, and bass with Energizer quality. The Fleshtones might as well be Troy’s adopted sons.
With Zaremba leaning hard on call and response R&B all afternoon, the gyrating crowd on the floor was a veritable Sunday rock n’ roll church — B.O., farts, high fives, and beer breath passed around like communion among the dive bar dancers. Highlight of the night was the frantic “Push Up Man” which included a dance floor push up contest between Streng, Fox and Zaremba. I have enough trouble dropping to do twenty, and I’m still in my 20s — these guys made it look easy after a 90-minute set, proving that rock keeps them part-teenager as long as they stay on the bandstand.
When the Fleshtones fired up their tribute tune “Remember the Ramones,” it reminded me that very few bands hold claim to a song like that without it coming across as a trying ploy. But, what other band that was around CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City as early as ’77? What other band never broke up? They may not have ever had a hit. They never will have a hit. You might not even remember what songs they played yesterday as they are showmen before songwriters, but keep a section in your vinyl files for the Fleshtones and put them on at your next party. That party will rock.
A re-tooled Lawn Sausages played a high-energy opening set, fueled by the powerful guitar of new addition Mark Emanatian (who wisely didn’t costume himself like the other Sausages). With songs like “Cow Tippin’” and “Liposuction Mama,” the set was typically tongue-in-cheek. The show was a heart-felt tribute to missing frontman Jimmy Barrett (health complications) whose presence was truly missed on the afternoon. It is good to report that, while he isn’t behind a microphone quite yet, you can find Jimmy back behind the cash register at River Street Beat Shop, somewhat restoring the feng shui of the arts district in Troy. Taking over the majority of the vocals was the several-beers-deep Vienna Sausage (Art Fredette), whose wildman antics might have made Iggy blush… and it was clear from the look on the face of his seven-year-old daughter in the front row that she won’t soon forget her father’s performance. Let’s just say that the awkward dial was pushed to eleven.
The hardest working band in Troy, the Mysteios kicked off the afternoon with a compact set that featured their own ear candy “It’s Bongo Time” (which strangely features not a single bongo) alongside some well-chosen covers of the Pixies (“Here Comes My Man”) and the New York Dolls-by-way-of-Bo Diddley (“Pills”).
Props also to the soundman for his impeccable iPod — Sex Pistols, Ramones and Velvets before each of the acts. Had the dance floor going even when the stage was empty.
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union