Thursday, October 07, 2010

FROM THE VINYL RACK: The Fleshtones "Hexbreaker!"

The Fleshtones formed in Queens, New York in 1976 after finding instruments left by a previous tenant in the basement of their rented apartment. Despite sharing bills with The Ramones and other NY punks, the garage-rockers were shunned if not written out of the CBGBs story. In the early years of the following decade they signed to Miles Copeland’s IRS label and released three LPs starting with “Roman Gods” in 1982 and then the following year “Hexbreaker!”. From the liner notes of that record:

The theme of this album is NEW because after all, this is the FLESHTONES newest LP. And not only is it their newest but it’s also their wildest, most emphatic, most super-rock record yet! It’s been said the FLESHTONES aren’t just a pop group but an outlook, a way of life

“Hexbreaker!” if not as raw and rocking as it predecessor is an effective showcase of their blend of 60s organ-fuelled garage rock mixed with swinging dance moves, handclaps and wailing saxophone. A touch of 60s paisley, some 70s punk attitude and early 80s US indie meet a hedonistic party vibe that, especially given subsequent neo-garage revivals, sounds surprisingly fresh.

"You'll discover The Fleshtones sound noticeably tighter and more emphatic here than they did on “Roman Gods”; singer Peter Zaremba knows the secret formula that fuses power and cool, Keith Streng's guitar work makes room for all sorts of righteous rock & roll noise, drummer Bill Milhizer lays down an indefatigable backbeat no matter what's going on, and Jan Marek Pakulski's bass keeps the low end lively throughout. While most bands on the budding garage revival scene were content to resurrect the sounds and styles of the past, on “Hexbreaker!”, The Fleshtones brought together past and present and turned it all into a wild party where everyone was invited". Mark Deming – All Music Guide

The Fleshtones are recording today for Yep Roc Records which I naively assumed was a recent reformation. But watching the 2009 documentary of the band “Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard Was Full” I realised that the band have been continually touring, and occasionally recording, every year since 1976 with Streng and Zaremba constant throughout – despite the lean years, the lack of a record contract and an inability in the 1980s to hold on to a bass player.

“Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard Was Full” is a heart-rending but unmissable documentary. It shows a group of fifty-plus year old friends playing their hearts out every night to devoted fans – or even just to rooms of three people. Loyal support in Europe - particularly in France - has kept the band going financially plus selling records out of the trunk of their car and arranging all their own tours rather than employing a tour manager. The film’s gig footage is also testimony to the fact that playing live is where the band are in their element – even after nearly 35 years.

Critical and fan acclaim never translated into commercial success for The Fleshtones. Their highest placing album in the Billboard Charts was “Roman Gods”. It reached #174 for one week.

And echoing the plight of the band, the film-makers of “Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard Was Full” never recouped the costs for this independently financed venture. So as well as buying the more recent releases of The Fleshtones or seeing their live performances, consider donating in return for a downloadable copy of the film. It’s a story - and music - that deserves a wider audience.

The Fleshtones
Hexbreaker [BUY – The IRS Years]
The Fleshtones on Yep Roc [BUY]

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