Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Something Old, Something New: The Fleshtones at 9:30 Club, 1991

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary this month, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. Here's a full—if interrupted—show from 1991 at the old 9:30 Club in Washington D.C., at that point a regular and welcoming venue for the Fleshtones, who'd play Friday and Saturday weekends there. (It's where I first saw them, in 1983. The club at this location, F Street in NW, closed in 1995 and later moved to V Street.) These videos come from Jimmy Cohrssen, who worked at the club and took some terrific photos of the band there in 1983 or '84. 

This show's a bit chaotic, and reminds me, not entirely pleasantly, of how ragged Fleshtones shows could get in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Ken Fox had been in the band for only a year—his post-Jason and The Scorchers shaggy hairstyle still visible—and the band was working through some compatibility and drug issues. Fox would spend a few years in the band before things started to jell onstage. Here, he looks like he's playing catch-up, Keith Streng often looks confused, and Peter Zaremba looks like he's playing with a different band in his head. At the end of "House of Rock," a woman comes onstage with whom Zaremba wants to dance, so he orders the band to stop the song cold and start playing a twist, a not-unusual command from him. But the band looks clueless, and Zaremba, exasperated, vanishes with her while the rest of the band jam on three chords for a while. Zaremba eventually reappears. It could've been worse: a few years earlier at the Bayou in D.C., Zaremba leaped from the stage halfway through a show and never came back.

Part of the problem may have been that by 1991 four long years had passed since the last Fleshtones album (Fleshtones Vs. Reality), a label-free lag time that Zaremba dryly references during "Mod Teepee," this set's opening number: "No one knows this song!" he acknowledges, and how could they? "Mod Teepee" wouldn't come out for another year domestically, on Powerstance, an album that provided several unfamiliar songs for this show. The guys seem well-received, and the show is a good sample of the post-Gordon Spaeth years—Steve Greenfield and Joe Loposky ably handling the horn duties. In 1992, the Fleshtones signed with Ichiban Records, giving them some measure of stability. (But the fate of that label's another long, convoluted story. You can read all about it in Sweat.)

The set list: "Mod Teepee," "Told Me A Lie," "I'm Gonna Knock You Out," "Down On Me," "Way Down South," "Screamin' Skull," "Let It Rip," "The Dreg," "Stop Fooling Around," "House Of Rock" (part), "F-f-fascination," "3 Fevers," "Pickin' Pickin'," "Hey You And The Wind And The Rain," "Girl From Baltimore," "Critical List," "American Beat," "Living Legends," "Theme From 'The Vindicators'," "Leather Kings," "Roman Gods," "Hall Of Fame," "Candy Ass."

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