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Old guy with guitar: The Fleshtones’ Keith Streng at Artie’s River Street Stage. Photo: Chris Shields

Youthful Maturity
By John Suvannavejh

The Fleshtones, Erin Harkes and the Rebound
Artie’s River Street Stage, Troy, Jan. 30

The Capital Region was treated to a fine expose in the fundamentals of rock & roll fun this past Friday. But sadly, about all of you missed it. The robust few that rose above our daily hums and trekked over to Troy’s River Street Stage (formerly Artie’s All Sports Bar) found an aging band of hooligans delivering their timeless brew of zany retro-rock highjinks.

The Fleshtones are no strangers to the area they dub “Capitaland, USA,” typically visiting from their native Brooklyn several times a year. After witnessing their, shall I say, particular format, I’d assume this show didn’t vary much from earlier ones. Not to suggest that the band’s routine is tiresome, nor that this particular show was anything less than fantastic. But these clearly aren’t guys interested in reinventing the wheel, their own or anyone else’s.

The Fleshtones are getting old. They began playing around NYC back in 1976 and recorded their first EP, Blast Off!, in 1978; the main three-quarters of the band, singer Peter Zaremba, guitarist Keith Streng and drummer Bill Milhizer, have been together ever since. Their most recent album, Do You Swing?, released last spring by Yep Roc, finds the same good-cheer exuberance as ever before—all stomp, sweat and speed. They’ve nestled into an important page in rock’s encyclopedia as one of the few garage-rock acts to revive an oft-dated tradition with such witty enthusiasm, and to take on so many different styles without sheepishly courting a template of just a few bands they like.

Watching them live, you can’t help but feel an itching need to suspend reality, to settle seemingly inconsistent inputs from your visual and auditory fields; men looking this old should not be rocking this hard. Nor should they still be sounding like teenage amphetamine freaks. But, being the Fleshtones incarnate, they do, and rock hard they will.

By the time they took the River Street Stage late Friday night, official preparations for our visiting garage royalty were inadequate. Little advertisement and an otherwise less-than-enticing bill led to a meager crowd of 20 or so fans and friends, filled in by bar regulars who had no idea what they were in for.

Opening with the blistering swoosh of “House of Rock” from 1992’s Powerstance, the Fleshtones didn’t let up for a single moment in their hourlong set. Each selection was a straight-ahead foot-stompin’ rave-up, the majority pulled from Do You Swing? Songs like “Greenpoint, USA” and “Good Enough for You” showcased their flighty knack for the grab-bag sounds of retro rock, dabbling in punk, surf, R&B and rockabilly.

Making good use of the underattended space, Zaremba sang most of the show from the dance floor, occasionally retreating to the stage for a Farfisa solo. Readied with their guitars on wireless transmission remotes, bassist Ken Fox and co-frontman Streng, capped in a silver vinyl baseball hat, soon proceeded offstage. All three pranced about the bar, playing up against the few dancers and getting in the faces of the unassuming bar folk. Streng took lead vocals for “Ready for the Mountain” and “Way Down South” in his Stiv Bator-esque yelp while standing on top of a table with a fully extended mikestand. As only a mature band can, the Fleshtones ignored the underwhelming audience presence and marched through their set as if surrounded by thousands of screaming, dance-crazed fans—an illusion they’ve certainly earned by now.

The show’s highlight undoubtedly was their encore performance of “Gloria,” with special guests including regional rockabilly prince Johnny Rabb and singer-songwriter Erin Harkes, who opened the show with her backing band the Rebound. Fortunately, Harkes ditched the trappings of the Rebound’s stale bar-band Americana and was freed to let loose with her raspy, blues-inflected croon. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one of the finest garage bands in the land backing you, Harkes’ deep-hearted rendition was absolutely mesmerizing, and even gave Mr. Van Morrison a run for his money.

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