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Tag: keith streng

The Split Squad Hits a Home Run Their First Time Up

During spring training, baseball teams often field two different squads on the same day against different teams, to facilitate plenty of practice time for both the stars and the scrubs. Which explains the sarcasm in the Split Squad’s name: this retro rock supergroup includes keyboardist Josh Kantor from Steve Wynn’s Baseball Project as well as Blondie drummer Clem Burke, guitarists Keith Streng of ageless garage rockers the Fleshtones and Eddie Munoz from powerpop cult legends the Plimsouls along with bassist Michael Giblin. On their debut album Now Here This, the Split Squad goes back through fifty years of rock, plundering ideas all over the place and mixing them up into a snarling, roaring, guitar-fueled blend of powerpop turbocharged with punk and oldschool garage rock. They’re at Bowery Electric on April 25 at around 10 atop a great purist guitar-fueled triplebill: Lakeside Lounge supergroup Los Dudes open the show at around 8 followed by legendary indie power trio the Figgs, still going strong after twenty years. Advance tickets are $10 and highly recommended.

The album unfortunately isn’t streaming on the web, but several of the tracks have made it to youtube (follow the link and enjoy!); there are also brief clips at the band’s music page. The title track opens the album. It’s Clash City Rockers meets Shakin’ All Over, as done by a late edition of Radio Birdman – yeah, that good. Those two paint-peeling wah guitar solos could be Chris Masuak. The steady, punchy, snide Touch & Go is the Kinks as done by Guided by Voices, more or less. With its mean, jangly guitar on the chorus, snappy bass and screaming guitar solo, She Is Everything could be a Del-Lords track from the late 80s. Then Sorry She’s Mine works the La Bamba/Hang On Sloopy riff before it goes in a janglier direction – anybody remember 18, that excellent Williamsburg garage-punk band from about six-seven years ago?

I’ve Got a Feeling has a tasty post-Stooges/Radio Birdman sway, with a deliciously swirly, all-too-brief organ solo. The vicious kiss-off anthem I Can’t Remember goes for a haphazard, 6/8 oldschool soul groove. I Feel the Same About You bookends a somewhat wry Beatles Abbey Road intro and outro around a four-on-the-floor powerpop stomp that could be Cheap Trick, right down to the Bun E. Carlos drumrolls out of the verse. Likewise, Superman Says, a look behind the mask of a stressed-out superhero: “They take it for granted that I never lose,” Clark Kent grouses.

Put It Down keeps the catchy powerpop going over a soul-clap beat that slows down to make way for the organ. Tinker Taylor hints at a Dolls glam vibe, while Hey Hey Baby, the most trad garage rock tune here, blends fuzz guitar into a biting minor-key riff-rock tune. You’ll Never Change is a brooding Vegas tango done as oldschool soul, Spooky by the Classics IV but genuinely spooky. The album winds up with Messin’ Around , which is basically Gloria, right down to the half-assed harmonica. They take it out with a nasty exchange of bars from the guitars. Recycling has seldom been so much fun.

Garage Rock Legends the Fleshtones Kick Off Their US Tour on Feb 27 in Williamsburg

The Fleshtones have aged well. The world’s most enduring garage rock band have a new album, Wheel of Talent, and a marathon US tour that kicks off at around 8 PM at Grand Victory in Williamsburg on Feb 27: cover is $15. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about the same as what you would have paid to see them at the Ritz (now Webster Hall) thirty years ago. That this band is still around, let alone with virtually all of the original core members, testifies both to their endurance as well as the eternal popularity of the sound they helped revitalize and then make iconic. The whole album is streaming at Spin.com, of all places.

What differentiates the Fleshtones from their second-wave garage rock brethren the Lyres, and the Cynics, and the thousands who followed over the decades, is that they’re as well versed in classic 60s soul music as they are in Nuggets Anthology-style riff-pop. And over the last couple of decades – wow, has it really been that long! – they’ve also taken frequent diversions into boisterously guitar-fueled powerpop in the same vein as Handsome Dick Manitoba’s Master Plan, which makes sense since lead guitarist Keith Streng has also spent time in that band. The Fleshtones have also never been afraid to be funny: they know what they do is fun, they obviously have a good time doing it and have loosened up over the years while keeping their punchy four-on-the-floor groove as tight as ever.

The best and funniest songs here make fun of dumb, trendy spoiled brats, their social ineptitude and social media obsessions. Available – which has a violin on it, an unexpected texture for a Fleshtones song – ridicules kids who find it necessary tell the whole world their most intimate details on Facebook. And the Chuck Berry-flavored Hipster Heaven, a hellish chronicle of the band’s old New York neighborhoods being swallowed by hordes of narcissistic gentrifiers fresh out of college but acting like kindergarteners, will resonate with every real New Yorker.

What You’re Talking About, with Streng’s banks of distorted guitars, organ and snarling, bluesy guitar leads, is garage rock as Cheap Trick might have done it circa 1979. The jangly, Byrdsy It Is As It Was reaches to capture a snapshot of the band’s career: they may not have made a lot of money, but it’s been a good time. They follow that with a minute fifty-nine worth of Remember the Ramones, a spot-on punk rock homage. “CBGB’s was very loud, Suicide packed the crowd, I was drinking Remy with Marty Thau, ” frontman/organist Peter Zaremba reminisces (ironically, Thau’s little label failed to release the Fleshtones’ debut album and a legal brouhaha ensued).

Roofarama blends Byrds jangle and Stooges wah guitar into a funky, sexy up-on-the-roof narrative. With its spacy Ventures guitars, The Right Girl sounds suspiciously like a parody of Joe Meek-style surf pop, right down to the faux British vocals. What I’ve Done Before takes an oldschool soul ballad and soups it up with loud guitars, while How to Say Goodbye goes back to the Cheap Trick (or Blue Oyster Cult at their mid-70s poppiest).

Zaremba croons his way through the Buddy Holly shuffle For a Smile as a British band like the Records might have done it, while the hardest-hitting song on the album, Stranger in My House evokes Da Capo-era Love, right down to the galloping drums and dark guitar chords, a surreal, bitter tale of losing a home and everything in it to something like a divorce or a probate dispute. There’s also a vengeful, Orbisonesque doo-wop pop number, Tear for Tear and the fuzztone garage rock number Veo La Luz and its tortured Spanish lyrics.

Halloween Comes Earlier Every Year in NYC

Halloween’s on its way, and it’s gonna be hell in the East Village when every amateur from Cape May to Cape Hatteras comes into town to drink and puke. But for a taste of a more, um, tasteful Halloween, there’s a killer retro rock triplebill coming to Brooklyn Bowl on Oct 26, with ageless second-wave garage rockers the Fleshtones, the reliably entertaining Southern Culture on the Skids and the world’s most popular surf band outside of the Ventures and Dick Dale, Los Straitjackets. The three bands are pushing a new Halloween collaboration, Mondo Zombie Boogaloo, which is due out on Oct 1 on double gatefold vinyl in addition to the usual digital stuff.

It’s everything you would hope for from these three bands. Los Straitjackets get the creepy side of surf – they don’t get all cartoonish and cliched and ruin it. The Fleshtones are a party band, and they bring the party, as do Southern Culture on the Skids, and both of them steer clear of the cheese a lot more than you might think. It’s worth keeping around on vinyl, both as an annual playlist that’s got something for pretty much everyone you might want to invite over at the end of October, or just for something fun and guitarishly tasty to pick you up after a bad day at work.

As you would guess, Los Straitjackets’ songs here are the best. It’s Monster Surfing Time is a surprisingly low-key, swaying, midtempo number where the guitars finally go into machete mode a little on the third verse – in a way it’s kind of Walk Don’t Run ’13. Theme From Young Frankenstein turns out to be an elegant, slowly swinging, thinly disguised version of Harlem Nocturne. Theme From Halloween takes the coldly techy theme, amps up the menace with real instruments, then the band goes four-on-the-floor and rocks the hell out of it. Ghoul on a Hill only hints at the Beatles through a mist of reverb-tank noise, while their LMAO version of the Ghostbusters theme spoofs the original with a virtuosic sneer.

SCOTS’ songs are strong too. Rick Miller has some nonchalantly brilliant reverb guitar on a lot of their tracks, especially the ghoulabilly Tingler Blues. “I’ll take the house nobody wants,” he drawls over swaying, spaghetti western rock on The Loneliest Ghost In Town: “The violent nature of my demise has made all buyers run and hide, and here I stand confined to the scene of the crime.”  La Marcha De Los Cabarones is a ferocious Link Wray homage in 7/4 time, while their version of Goo Goo Muck is more of a straight up garage rock song than the famous Cramps version and a far cry from the feral Hasil Adkins original. And the feedback-drenched Demon Death has devious fun toying with a teen roadkill theme.

The Fleshtones’ Haunted Hipster might be the best song on the album. “Every day is Halloween for you,” Peter Zaremba sneers while Keith Streng plays Stonesy slide guitar and a droll, absolutely spot-on Beatles quote over Ken Fox’s growly fuzz bass. They also deliver (Sock It To Me Baby) In The House Of Shock, with its goodnaturedly poppy mid-60s vibe; Ghoulman Confidential, a roller rink organ soul shuffle; and Dracula A GoGo, a Flamin’ Groovies-style pub rock number. There’s also Que Monstruos Son, a very tongue-in-cheek Spanglish version of the Monster Mash featuring all three bands.