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meeting with the indestructible Fleshtones, living icons of rock’n’roll history

In concert at La Sirène, Thursday, November 11, the New York group offered the people of Rochelle a pure moment of rock. On stage since 1976, Peter Zaremba and his acolytes have no intention of retiring. “It’s only rock’n’roll but we like it!”

Last night, the center of the universe was at La Pallice.

For nearly two hours, a spatio-temporal hole plunged the commercial port of La Rochelle into the confines of the rock’n’roll galaxy. The cosmic phenomenon was obviously not foreseeable. By the very admission of David Fourrier, the big boss of La Sirène, the passage of comet Fleshtones was even a little improvised at the last moment. But how to say no to Peter Zaremba and his friends? THE Fleshtones! Of course, there weren’t just hardcore garage rock fans in the audience. But, all those who fell blithely into this cosmic rift of sweat and decibels all ended up resolving to admit the obvious. As Mick Jagger sang: “we know, it’s just rock’n’roll, but we like it!”

“Just kids who wanted to play rock’n’roll”

It’s because we’re still talking to you about a time that people under sixty can’t know. On stage, Zaremba, Keith Streng, Ken Fox and Bill Milhizer even have a little more on the clock. But these dilapidated dandies over seventy years old have miraculously kept the energy of the kids from Queens who, at the end of the 1970s, ignited the nights of CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City in New York. The Big Apple was then shamelessly bitten by Johnny Thunder, Iggy Pop or Ramones. In London, Rotten and Sid Vicious hadn’t yet drawn their Sex Pistols, but on the other side of the Atlantic, a guy had invented a little four-letter word that would change the history of music: punk.

Paradoxically, the Fleshtones weren’t really part of the band. They were right there and their supercharged version of the purest sixties rock still made everyone agree. “We always felt outside the punk movement”confirms Peter Zaremba. “We come from this background, but the other bands didn’t really like us. Blondie maybe, the Cramps, Suicide too, but the others not very much. We were just kids who wanted to play rock’n’roll .”

And so that’s what they’ve been doing for nearly half a century. Last night they kicked off their set with a tribute to Charlie Watts, their late Rolling Stones colleague. They then chained the songs without firing a shot, new releases from the latest album Face of the Screaming Werewolf released in 2020 but also older nuggets. With over thirty albums behind them, they are spoiled for choice.

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“Everything I do has to do with the Fleshtones”

In the dressing rooms of La Sirène, the quartet warmly welcomes us before the concert. “Some say we would have done more than 3000 concerts”ventures Keith Streng. “I can not believe”Zaremba cuts him off. “All we can say is that, over the last twenty years, we have played an average of 60 to 70 concerts a year, so you do the math”, ventures the guitarist. Whatever. The most fabulous thing is to see them calmly getting ready before hitting the La Rochelle public with their “great rock sound”, this inimitable and yet so basic sound, guitar, bass, drums. The energy is intact.

“There would be no reason to do it if we weren’t having fun”explains Ken Fox. “It’s not about the money. We still like each other and we’re not going to get any younger, so…” So, on the road again for a new French tour. “I just had dental implants in Tijuana”laughs Zaremba. “So I’m slowly getting replaced piece by piece. I must be 1% new now, so I’m moving on. If you’re sick of the old, there’s a new one coming!”

“We manage to live on it anyway, more or less”continues the singer. “We have other side activities, I received my retirement money, which is something weird for me and then we play, I do radio shows. But the essential thing for me is is that I’m into Fleshtones, everything I do has to do with Fleshtones.”

This incredible longevity is therefore explained by this unshakeable faith in the magic and power of rock’n’roll. However, the general opinion is that they never received the global success they deserved to have, like their illustrious co-religionists on the New York scene like the Ramones or the Talking Heads.

“I am okay”confirms Zaremba. “We weren’t pissed off by that kind of success. A lot of bands claim they’re crazy but we really were on and off stage. But how do you expect us to be bitter about We arrived in La Rochelle today and David (Fourrier, editor’s note) greeted us with a huge platter of oysters, so… How do you want to be bitter?

After an hour and a half of concert, the whole room is overwhelmed by this maelstrom of soul and garage rock that never seems to want to calm down. And, in fact, it does not stop. Inevitably, Peter comes down from the set and comes to sing in the middle of the audience, like a kid. There’s always been something special between the group and France. In the 90s, not a year passed without the Fleshtones criss-crossing France from Paris to Bordeaux, necessarily passing through Brittany. The Hespérides club in Plounéour-Trez near Brest, the La Cité hall in Rennes, always explosive concerts that ended in the street standing on the roofs of cars.

“I think we touched a certain part of the hearts of the French with what we do”explains Bill Milhizer, the drummer. “I think the French public likes things that are a little on the fringe, misfits, losers, people who are a little dangerous, out of the ordinary.”

Brittany has always been our favorite place”continues Zaremba, perhaps to please his French interlocutor. “The Bretons were as crazy as us, so we fed each other, we were in symbiosis.”

At the end of the concert, we find musicians ecstatic and visibly delighted with their performance. They can. “Yehed Mad!” (“Cheers”, in Breton, editor’s note) launches Peter Zaremba, glass of champagne in hand. The spatio-temporal fault does not seem to want to close and, one thing is certain, we will come back to see the Fleshtones on stage in La Rochelle or in Brittany. “I know, it’s only rock’n’roll but we like it!”

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