Review: The Fleshtones dish out amazing, old-school rock 'n' roll at the Local 662 in St. Petersburg
It felt like a bizarre blast from the past in the newly christened venue, one that was especially nostalgic for 30- or 40-somethings who remembered the New York new wave/garage rock band in during their late ’70s/early ’80s heyday, or for those who recall watching Fleshtones frontman Peter Zaremba on the MTV show I.R.S. Presents the Cutting Edge. Hey, that was back when MTV aired alternative music — heck, music even. Talk about feeling old.
What’s cool about the Fleshtones is they never stopped. Legendary but never famous, the band has been continuously touring and recording for 30-odd years, combining classic rock ’n’ roll riffs with soulful grooves and punk rock audacity. The lineup has been intact since 1990 with two of the four members, Zaremba and guitarist Keith Streng, remaining since 1976. That’s more consistency than you usually find on the retro circuit.
When news broke that the Fleshtones were playing a free show in St. Pete, some friends mentioned that they were an amazing band to watch live. People say that often, but this time the word “amazing” could be held up to its most literal context. The dudes, all in their mid-to-late 50s, strutted with the energy of musicians half their age during an antics-filled 90-minute set.
It was jaw-dropping and hilarious to watch. The Fleshtones showed themselves off as flamboyant showmen who combine glammy sass and cheesy maneuvers. Their collective stage presence could be described as the Who meets Tom Jones with the silliness of Pee-Wee Herman. They sported mic stand flips, synchronized kicks, interlocking guitar arms and frequent descents onto the audience floor. One such invasion featured a push-up contest between Streng and bassist Ken Fox.
With his back to the audience, Zaremba had his bandmates remove his silver satin shirt just to reveal another glittery silver-sequined shirt underneath. His shaggy long bangs once red and now gray, Zaremba swung and gyrated like he didn’t care the he was old enough to be most of the female audience members’ father or grandfather.
Not very many new bands on the scene ham it up with such gusto. My show companion mentioned The Make-Up — that’s about as close as it gets in the 21st century.
Sound-wise, they were just about flawless. The system wasn’t shabby either. The PA, installed by local esteemed sound guy Rick Ramsdell, along with a professional-standard LED lighting system, were among many of the fine touches the Local 662 offers as a music venue.
In its previous incarnation as the Garage, the venue got complaints for its lack of seating, poor acoustics and blaring sound system, but owners Mark Assif, Lou Campillo and No Clubs godfather Tony Rifugiato have righted the wrongs of the former greaser-themed, corrugated-steel echo chamber. Now the venue has acoustic absorbers installed on the rafters, cork on the walls and a new sound booth at the center-right of the bar.
It also offers a more soothing look and comfortable feel. Leather couches in the back and elegant black tables and TVs inset at the bar ensure that the Local 662 will have a built-in crowd for many shows to come, most of which include local bands. Artwork by locals hangs on the walls, revolving monthly or thereabouts.
Co-owner Assif, a musician himself, named the venue after northeastern local unions known for their tight memberships, and he helped design the bar hoping to avoid the pitfalls of dives and their “crappy PAs.” He said he wants to make local bands feel like they’re getting professional treatment. Meanwhile, Assif and his partners don’t want make the 662 cost-prohibitive, so musicians have an easier time getting friends and fans to come out to see their shows. Helping the cause, the bar only charges around $3-$5 for drinks and throughout this summer will present free shows highlighting local bands.
By the looks of the crowded, upbeat establishment on Saturday night — only about a third of whom were there expressly to see the Fleshtones — the Local 662 might just be doing locals right.
— Julie Garisto, tbt*