The Fleshtones, with frontman Peter Zaremba at far right, re-establish a Beachhead on the Shore this Saturday, when they appear at The Brighton with The Brimstones and The Bangs. (Photos by Anne Streng)
Keep a band together long enough, and you can’t help but develop your own mythology.
For the Fleshtones, those tireless garage/frat poobahs who’ve existed in a state of “constant reunion” for over 30 years, the mythology takes in the “Powerstance” — a defiantly cross-armed pose signifying the band’s readiness to engage and conquer the audience.
Then there’s the concept of Super Rock, a genre that the Fleshtones apparently have all to themselves, and a process by which the crowd becomes involved in the show to the extent that each and every gig is an experiment in barely controlled chaos. It’s a factor that “keeps it interesting” for the long-playing combo, as per Peter Zaremba, the NY band’s outerborough hipster frontman for lo these many moons.
As one of “the best practitioners of a genre that we invented ourselves,” Zaremba has certainly done more than his part to encourage the Super Rock contagion. One of the slyest and savviest call-and-response ringmasters this side of the TV pulpit, this master entertainer has always had what it takes to cajole a too-cool crowd into a clubhouse clamor — something the band did repeatedly at such long-gone venues as CBGB, Hurrah, Danceteria and the old Green Parrot in Neptune.
A ‘tones tune is a relaxed-fit, color-outside-the-lines affair in which Keith Streng’s guitar piledrives a jagged line between acid-washed fuzz and sitar twang, and the big-beat battery of Bill Milhizer and Ken Fox speed the rhythm past the last exit ramps for funk, soul and ska. The only thing missing, as they say, is you.
With a Saturday night show at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, the Fleshtones return Shoreside on the momentum of not one but two 2008 releases, the confident Take a Good Look and the nutcrackin’ novelty Stocking Stuffer.
Behind the Fleshtones myth is an oft-told “secret origin” in which the group’s original bass player moved into a rented home in Queens and came across a cache of musical instruments in the basement — a discovery not unlike finding the hammer of Thor.
Armed with the tools of the trade and a place to practice, the Fleshtones were born — and the house (soon to be known as The House) became the scene for some legendary parties that would infuse the band’s club sets with a similar raucous energy.
Signing to the major alternative label IRS (home of REM and the Go-Gos), the band enjoyed a high profile in the early 1980s, with college-radio airplay, a theme song for a Tom Hanks movie (Bachelor Party) and appealingly loose LPs like Roman Gods and Hexbreaker! Streng and Zaremba released side project albums, and the singer even became a major player in the early years of MTV; lending his affably awkward hosting skills to the IRS-produced, cult-fave show The Cutting Edge.
We interviewed Zaremba on the phone last time the band blew through the greater Red Bank orbit, and in his Bowery Boys accent the singer recalled how, after a string of largely overlooked 1990s releases on a now-defunct label, the Fleshtones found a renewed connection with audiences by playing yet another frathouse blast.
“This kid named Glenn Dicker hired us to play a frat party,” said Zaremba. “He told us that his dream was to start a record label, and that we were one of the bands he most wanted to sign — a few years later he starts Yep Roc, a label which we are quite happy to be on.”
The affiliation with Yep Roc — home to most anybody who’s anybody in roots-rock, surf, garage and psychedelia these days — has allowed the band to write the latest chapter of the legend with the help of producers like Rick Miller (of label-matesSouthern Culture on the Skids) and New York guitar great Ivan Julian (Richard Hell, Matthew Sweet).
Still, it’s in the live forum that the Fleshtones best fulfill their promise. Although the frontman remains “unafraid of the audience,” he freely fesses that the interactive Super Rock experience has led to situations where “many times we’ve lost control of the show, with the stage wrecked and everything discombobulated to a point where it couldn’t be rescued.”
“But it would almost be perverse to break up the band at this point,” Zaremba concludes. “We enjoy being with each other, and it’s beyond my wildest dreams that people continue to show their support.”