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.