The Fleshtones, The DeRellas & Witchdoktors: Camden Underworld, London – live review
Camden Underworld London
2 June 2014
A full-on triple header of high energy rock and roll, tinged with glam sleaze and punk attitude, The Fleshtones just don’t know when – or how – to stop.
It’s the Tuesday following the Camden Rocks weekend and you’d think Camden Town would have had enough of music for a couple of days. Well you’d be wrong.
We’re down at Camden’s Underworld with a healthy and enthusiastic crowd for what’s billed as a triple-tag super-rock slam-bam evening of high energy rock’n’roll with WitchDoktors, The DeRellas and those living legend of the US garage rock scene, The Fleshtones. And if you look carefully, scattered amongst the crowd you can spot various Dustaphonics and The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing.
First up we have South London’s WitchDoktors who’ve been delivering a steady stream of super-charged punk rock and roll for a few years now. Their last album $3 Hooker is well served tonight as they kick things off with a rollicking version of “Movie Star”. That’s swiftly followed by a new tune “Tie Me Up” – then before the crowd has a chance to take a breath we’re off and running into “Told You To Go” and another new tune “No Pain No Gain”.
They’re a great viusal band as the bassist and lead guitarist constantly swap sides and after a swift tune up and a few words about forthcoming shows (18th July with King Salami at the Half Moon Putney sounds like it’ll be a corker) we’re into a fuzz-bass lead “I’m Sick”. That’s followed by a stomping version of another new tune “7 Days & 7 Nights” and the Johnny Cash influenced crowd favourite “Big Black Sack”.
A swift guitar change and the lads blast out 60s tinged “Knock Me Back”, the Feelgood-esque “Walk The Talk” and a kick ass version of “Neck Tattoo”. Then, before you know it, it’s time for set closer “Common Prayer”… drumsticks fly as lead singer Andy joins drummer Joe for a double drummer solo and the bass player doubles up with Fleshtones bass-man Ken Fox at the back of the hall. They’re working hard on the follow up album at the moment.
Next up it’s those loveable rogues The DeRellas who deliver a chunky slice of glam-tinged sleazy rock and roll. Drawing on their long history of leather jackets, black eye-liner and over-driven Gibson guitars they’re a great looking live band, coming on like the bastard offspring of The Ramones and The Heartbreakers.
Front man Robbie Tart delivers man a fine line in audience engagement including a smart line asking the crowd to move closer to the front because of his failing eyesight. Bass man Timmy twists, jumps, high-kicks and glares like a modern day Sid Vicious (but with a few more bass chops than Sid, bless him) and lead guitarist Luca channels Johnny Ramone and Iggy Pop. Holding it all together at the back, new boy Seb Frey has settled nicely into the drumstool and keeps things moving along.
In no particular order we get first album crowd favourites “She’s A Pistol”, “All Fired Up” and “Freakshow” plus a healthy slab of songs from new album Slam Bam including “Rock’n’rollercoaster”, the Glitter Band singalong of “Stick It To The Man”, “She Kissed The Gun” a rocking Sham influenced “Don’t Go” and a rowdy cover of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”.
Last up it’s The Fleshtones. They’re a wonderful conundrum of a band who have somehow managed to dodge major league success in over five decades of constant live shows. On another planet and a different time-stream, The Fleshtones would be as revered as the Stones, they have sold as many records as James Brown and been inducted into the Rock’Roll Hall of Fame decades ago.
At first it’s quiet… then there’s rising wave of guitar-noise… but no band. In typically perverse Fleshtones fashion, they enter from the back of the room – and for a band who’ve got a few hundred thousand miles on the clock – leap very nimbly up onto stage.
Kicking things off we get a rocking “Hitsburg” rapidly followed by “Feels Good To Feel” and it really looks like front man Peter Zaremba does look like he’s feeling good and happy to be here. Constantly touring in the USA and finding pockets of popularity in Europe (France, Spain and Italy seem to really get the Fleshtones) they’ve deserved more love from the UK than perhaps they’ve received. It’s strange, because after every Fleshtones gig I’ve witnessed over here, once the band have left the room, everyone “gets” the Fleshtones.
As each song stops, Peter gets the band (and the audience) to twist around and around asking where the Wheel Of Talent might land next – first up it’s bass player Ken Fox’s turn and we’re treated to old favourite “Let’s Go” from the Laboratory of Sound LP. That song finishes and it’s lead guitarist Keith Streng’s turn on vox for “Haunted Hipster” from last year’s splendid Mondo Zombie Boogaloo LP (which also included contributions from Los Straitjackets and the rather wonderful Southern Culture On The Skids). More twisty-turny tomfoolery ensues and then Peter takes the lead for “Serious”.
That’s pretty much the format for the rest of the evening – songs follow non stop, lead vocals get traded and Keith spends larger and larger amounts of time either airborne (the man is constantly either high-kicking or leaping from chairs, monitors, stage edges… basically whatever he can find that helps to get a few more feet higher) or in the middle of the audience. It’s amazing – these guys have got more energy and flexibility than bands half their age.
There’s a couple of tracks from the new LP “Wheel of Talent” including a rollicking version of “Remember The Ramones” that features Keith and Ken pulling the bendiest leaning back Ramones pose I’ve ever seen – I hope one of the photogs managed to grab a shot, eh! We also get a cracking medley that features “The Dreg”, the lead in track from 1982’s IRS debut LP – this includes Keith and Ken playing each other’s instruments without actually trading them first. We’re also treated to more old favourites including “I Was A Teenage Zombie” and “Burnin’ Hell”.
There’s more high-kicking and chair jumping, swapping of vocals, sharp poses and constant energy from Peter, at least two human pyramids and then they finish the main set with a cover of The Music Explosion’s “I See The Light”… but translated to “Veo La Luz” and sung in Spanish. Only in Fleshtone-land!
After a short break, the band are summoned back and finally close the show with a full on version of American Beat (which turned up on the soundtrack of one of Tom Hanks’ earliest movies Bachelor Party).
And then that’s it.. job done and the boys are off to Leeds, Greece and New Jersey in that order to add another couple of thousand miles to the clock.
Wheel Of Talent is out right now on Yep Roc records, but if you want to learn more about one of the USA’s greatest unsung rock’n’roll bands check out the great biography “Sweat” written by Joe Bonomo and the Fleshtones documentary “Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard’s Full”.
Long live The Fleshtones!
Live review by K G Steel