Friday, August 09, 2019

The Fleshtones, Los Tiki Phantoms, the Holy Smokes, the Swamp Gospel at Backstage Bar and Billiards, Thursday August 8, 2019

Way back in the early 80's I was in the Unclaimed, one of the first garage-rock "revival" bands on the west coast. The Fleshtones were one of the first (starting even before the Unclaimed) on the east coast. As their popularity grew - due to terrific songs and an amazing live act - they traveled to the west coast a number of times and, as like-minded bands, we did a number of gigs together, usually culminating with everyone on stage and the entire club becoming one big party. Unfortunately, life is not fair and the 'Tones, despite being on IRS Records, never reached the fame'n'fortune that they so deserved. While they literally never called it quits (over 40 years now!), their treks to the west coast became less common and it has been a good 25+ years since I last saw them play. So, needless to say, I was more than excited to hear that they were going to play in Las Vegas (a rarity for them) and that the Swamp Gospel would be able to open the night.

Of course, it was super early when we went on so - the doors had just opened immediately before we hit the stage - but we did our best to serve up some soul sanctification to those that had arrived. While not really on the top of our game, it was a solid effort and converts were made, snakes were handled and strychnine was consumed! We even pulled out our take on John Lee Hooker's "Burnin' Hell" after remembering that the Fleshtones also covered it way back on the Hexbreaker album.

(SG pix by Nikki Ruffling, as usual - thanks!)

Local blues-garage rockers the Holy Smokes followed with their super, high energy blues that never fails to bring a smile to the faces of everyone in the club while causing some hip-shake action! Bassist/vocalist Luke (also of Shanda and the Howlers) and harp/vocalist Jeffrey (to be found anywhere good blues is being played) work with original git-slinger Joel and new-guy-on-the-drums, Gerry (New Waves, Swank Bastards, innumerable other combos) to swing'n'groove thru tunes from their two albums as well as hip covers like their take on the NY Dolls' take on Bo Diddley's "Pills". It's impossible NOT to have a good time when these cats are on stage and this was one of their stronger sets that I've seen!

I knew nothing whatsoever about Los Tiki Phantoms before this eve, other than they were a masked instro band from Spain. As so many similar groups rely on their schtick to get by, I didn't have high hopes, but the Phantoms were a total blast right from the start! Fine musicianship all around, a goofy/fun/energetic stage show and some real, melodic songs that incorporated a variety of sounds won over the crowd immediately. Plenty of originals, some silly covers (I think there was a medley of "I Was Made For Loving You" and "Call Me" (!) along with other 80's tunes done instrumentally) and a lot of crowd interaction, from passing out cardboard masks based on their own masks to forming a conga line throughout the club! Nice guys, too!

Then, finally, the log-awaited return of the Fleshtones! Original members Peter (lead vox, keys, harp), Keith (guitar/vocals) and Bill (drums/vocals) are joined by "new guy" (30 or so years!) Ken and they continue their quest to bring their original brand of Super Rock to the masses. Their show is still filled with non-stop movement and wild energy, far surpassing most groups decades younger than them (and inspiring this old man). While the music is essentially garage rock'n'roll, there is also plenty of R'n'B (the real stuff) and Soul influences combined to make a potent brew that gets everyone up on their feet!

Opening with "The Dreg", the stunning initial track from their fantastic Roman Gods album, the guys then ran through a set of mostly newer numbers, although "Lets See the Sun", ironically one of my least favorite 'Tones tunes, also from Roman Gods, did make an appearance. There were covers from the group Teenage Head, a rockin' take on the Stones' "Child of the Moon" and a homage to the Ramones where they name-check the incredible NYC combos from the CBGB's/Max's Kansas City days that they shared stages with. There were lots of synchronized moves (always a crowd pleaser), both Ken and Keith got chances to take the lead vocal spot and Peter and Keith (on wireless guitar) also led the crowd on a conga line outside into the Vegas night and back before blasting out their high-energy finale!

I didn't take as many notes as I probably should have because I was just having too damn good of a time (although I did take an abundance of photos since they are so highly visual). This year has been an excellent year for live music in Vegas and this was another top-tier event - one of the best anyone is likely to see in town and it's a shame that so few people here support this kind of incredible rock'n'roll. But, we appreciate Brian and Dirty R'n'R Dance Party for bringing these quality acts to Vegas, regardless of the financial reward.