Fleshtones frontman Peter Zaremba and guitarist Keith Streng cut loose at Woodlands Tavern (photos by John Petric 2)
I went to Vegas once, bet $18 and won 25 and quit while I was ahead. Blowin' dough in a scam where the house owns the odds is for fools. You want to gamble, own a record store in 2013. No, I took my 30 percent winnings and principle and blew them over the course of the next 24 hours as I gorged myself on three of those 'all-you-can-eat' casino buffets which are awfully damn good for eight bucks. This really jammed my sperm count into overdrive with New York strip steaks headlining each meal with plenty of refills. Three cheers for meat products! So it was this past weekend, where I did better than three oranges in a row when I saw the Fleshtones, Los Straitjackets and Neko Case. Each knocked it out of the ballpark and in the case of the 'jackets, knocked the skin right off the ball. But how did I do better than a trifecta? Throw in the best emcee this town has ever seen: Bruce Nutt, promoter for the 'shtones and 'jackets at Woodlands Tavern Sunday night, and a most wonderful old-school huckster/fast-talking/big-city-slicker who outdoes Wolfman Jack when it comes to firing up an audience and presenting the acts. Dude has a talent for presenting talent. He's part of the show. Thus it was at Woodlands, half-sports bar, half really fine little room for music Sunday night with the Fleshtones opening. They've been at it since Ford was president and judging by their super-crazed performance, not only is their spirit willing but their aging flesh is not nearly as weak as it should be. This band, on a good night, is one of the most spectacular garage-rock acts and Sunday was a very good night. Singer Peter Zaremba, resplendent in his Uncle Sam thrift store t-shirt with 'ZIP IT HIPPIE' below our beloved uncle's image, did his perpetual juvenile delinquent/class clown/Roman god of reverb'n'rhythm shtick. As diminutive string bean Keith Streng led drummer Bill Milhizer and equally skinny bassist Ken Fox through one very fat hour of Fleshtones 3-D rock: dance, dance, dance! The crowd, equally long in the tooth, showed up early for the Fleshtones nine o'clock slot and as their super-rock marathon died down I could only pity the Straitjackets for having to follow THAT. Here was my weekend's second-biggest surprise: Los Straitjackets put on one of the best rock'n'roll shows of brilliant guitar playing AND quality family entertainment as is available to the paying non-couch-potato public. Frankly, I was so blown away by the SJ's that I am going to have to rate the night as one of the best night's of super-garage-rock/surf-instrumental-rock ever if not THE best. And this comes nearly 48 hours later so I've had time to recover, remember and not regret. The 'jackets: they wear customized Mexican wrestling masks. The 'jackets: they feature two awesome lead guitarists. The 'jackets: they say, do and act out more shtick than Jack Benny and it's all good, baby. Oh, and did I mention they can play their asses off at super-high speeds and then slow it down to do achingly melodic ballads full of melancholy and tears of tremelo? But they ain't sad, they're just well-adjusted. More than a couple of times I shook my head in disbelief as guitarist Eddie Angel traded rhythm and leads with his associate, Daddy-O Grande. You can't imagine how exciting a spaghetti western-themed instrumental in the four hands of these two fine players can sound. Giddy-yap! Move along, little dogie! Shake your tits, move your hips! Eventually a particularly enthusiastic girl slipped her black bra off and flung it into the drummer's face as he was pounding the bejesus out of his kit. And without missing a beat he had it on his head like a pair of beer goggles at 3 a.m. Hilarious! Glad to know these two killer live bands are rejuvenating their fan base with the younger generation. With any luck, these boys'll be around for another decade. Now, the first surprise of the weekend: Neko Case at the Newport Saturday night. In truth, I wasn't a fan, having seen her at Little Brother's back in the day and decided she was first runner-up in the Emmylou Harris soulless country diva sweepstakes. But something has happened in the intervening 10 years: I've gotten older and she's gotten better. At the Newport Saturday night I was gently and gradually riveted by her lyrics, her still-ungiving presence, her artistic vision: songs end when she wants them to, namely abruptly. As if she's saying, there, I've said what I wanted to say and no point in belaboring it with a sing-along chorus because you're here to listen to me, not I you. Normally I'd think that was fucked-up. But not Neko, not Saturday night. I kept thinking of her as delicate porcelain, her voice its own unique vehicle in an industry loaded with semi-sincere twangers. Yet something sturdy was going on. Lyrics--yes, her lyrics. Completely and totally. Her voice and her words. They're only a little impressionistic and fragmented like everybody else's, which I find to be cheap communication. No, she's much, much more, writing from an expressive heart filtered through a finely tuned, temperate intelligence. "I'm ashamed I am barely human," she sang in "Nothing To Remember." "I am ashamed that I don't have a heart to break." Wow, personal accountability of a sort. I love this woman. Her band was pretty fine, loaded with geezers who looked like they've been around since Moses wore short pants. What the hell, between her backing guys, the ancients in the Fleshtones and the Straitjackets, it was mos def a golden agers movable feast last weekend. And it was tremendous. I ate like a pig, toasting everyone with my new motto, "Fuck the young and Vampire Weekend!"