In this case, Fall refers to Autumn. And the Troy to which I refer isn’t the Wooden Horse City; it’s Troy, N.Y., a few miles north of Albany — The Collar City, hometown of the real Uncle Sam (Wilson, whose grave is a tourist attraction), Maureen Stapleton, Robert Fuller (Dr. Brackett from Emergency!), longtime New York Times sportswriter Dave Anderson … and Bill Milhizer, the drummer since 1979 for the World’s Greatest Rock’n’roll Band, the ‘Shtones. Not the Stones, the ‘Shtones — as in The Fleshtones, purveyors of the world’s finest super rock since 1976. Bill, Peter Zaremba, Keith Streng and Ken Fox. And “How to Make a Day” refers to a song from their latest album, last month’s The Band Drinks for Free, about spending — and cherishing — a wonderful day while you have the time.
And the band was playing a matinee show yesterday in the Land of Milhizer & Honey, at the Hangar, a place on River Road, in a onetime industrial section of town slowly being reclaimed by artistic-type folks, separated only by a layer of trees from the Hudson. And I Google-Mapped it last week and realized, to my surprise, that Troy is just two hours from me! And the ticket was pretty cheap. And since it was peak leaf season, and the show would be over come nightfall, why not make a Saturday of it?
And so off I went, up Route 8 into the Berkshires, across westward on the Mass Pike and Thruway to Albany, then a trot up 787 to Troy. Now, Troy had a weird place in my memory. At my last full-time job, as a paginator for the most evil corporate vultures at Digital First/News and People Last Media, I was laying out pages for any of 10 decimated daily papers on a given night. One was the Troy Record, or what’s left of it now that the soulless capitalists have picked it apart clean to a skeleton staff that’s been moved 45 minutes away to Saratoga. So some of the towns and neighborhoods and locations were familiar to me, at least by name.Anyway, the band was loading in just as I got to the parking lot in the rear. It’s always good to catch up with The Fleshtones. And with a sellout house, with a lot of friends (and a few relatives) of Bill, this was gonna be a fun one.
Walked across the street to the Ale House, a corner bar in an old brick building (whose owners own The Hangar), which was crammed like St. Paddy’s Day (too much to get near
the bar), thanks to some participants in a charity bike ride from Albany, and people waiting for the doors at the Hangar to open at 3. What struck me almost immediately was how friendly people are, as in you can strike up a conversation just like that. I miss that from my Fresno days. In Connecticut, you make eye contact with someone and they’re like “What the fuck are YOU looking at?” Troy is dealing with post-industrial blues just like many other Northeastern cities, but they’re nice about it at least.
Met some good people, like Art Fredette, one of the main organizers of the show — the first one held by the Troy entertainment weekly, The Spot 518. And Bo, another recovering ex-journo, standing outside the club with Art. And Paul and Eileen and Mike, standing outside the Ale House. And Dave, the guy taking the tickets. And Joanna, the fab,
leopard-clad, beehived singer from the ’60s cover trio that opened the show, Off the Record. And the woman in between bands outside the back door (where it felt like outside at a punk matinee from younger days, only with much more gray hair and paunch) who struck up a conversation with me — she went to grad school at Yale as I was just starting to hang in New Haven after college, so I clued her in on my city that’s gone (and told her that I first saw The Fleshtones at the Grotto in ’84) as she recalled Toad’s and Fitzwilly’s. And the woman who gave me my wristband at the door who said “You look awfully familiar …” “I’ve never been to Troy before.” “Wait … Are you … Fran Fryed?” “Freeeed …” Leanne was an editor at the Record who recognized my name. We caught up. She took a buyout from DFM and is now working for The Spot and enjoying it.
And the thing about The Fleshtones isn’t just the music — it’s also always been the friendships you build. Like the band, who I’ve known since the mid-’80s. (It was three straight days of seeing shows and hanging out with them in New Orleans and Baton Rouge on my first visit to NOLA in December 1986 that cemented them in my heart for life.) Or catching up with Emily and Robert, who I met at a show at Cafe Nine in New Haven a couple years ago; they came from Providence for yesterday’s show. Or running into a totally unexpected friendly face: Michael Giblin, the bassist/frontman for Keith’s other band, The Split Squad. (Also in the group: Eddie Munoz from The Plimsouls, Clem Burke from Blondie and Josh Kantor from the Red Sox — the team, not the band.) Michael had a five-hour slog back to Harrisburg later on, but he had to drive Clem’s drums back to NYC in the morning, so he came up to Troy after. And people I met yesterday will most likely become friends, treat me like a prodigal daughter if/when I return to Troy for another show.
The music was almost incidental — except it wasn’t. And with The Fleshtones, it never is. And they were on fire. I often marvel at how much energy and passion — and physicality — they still play with 40 years on. Bill just turned 68, Peter 62 and Keith 61 a couple weeks back — Ken’s the baby at 55 — and they just put so many young flannel neckbeard bands to shame. I mean, Keith still leaps off tables and chairs with his guitar, a la Pete Townshend, Peter still dances maniacally and Bill keeps time marvelously. And Count Zaremba (as he bills himself as host of a Sirius XM Underground Garage show at midnight Saturdays-into-Sundays) made his way with the band to the stage wearing a cape worthy of a count. They led off with three spectacularly fiery choices: “Bigger and Better,” “Going Back to School” and “Feels Good to Feel.”
When the brain-death of Classic “Rawk” and the obligatory ’70s/’80s/’90s nostalgia tours are so ingrained in the musical landscape, it’s hard to explain to a stranger that a band
that was in the thick of the early NYC punk/new wave scene of the ’70s, and college radio (and MTV, with Peter hosting “The Cutting Edge“) in the ’80s, has never, ever been a nostalgia act. Even after four decades. Most of the playlist was from the last three or four years — “Rick Wakeman’s Cape,” “Love My Lover” and “The Gasser” from the new album; recent selections such as “Haunted Hipster,” “Remember The Ramones,” last year’s single, “I Surrender,” and “Veo la Luz” from their Wheel of Talent album from 2014. They only dipped into the oldies jukebox three times — “Girl From Baltimore” mid-set; and during the three-song encore, “Veo la Luz” was sandwiched spectacularly by “American Beat” (which has long been the theme to my radio shows) and “Screaming Skull.”
Show over, after an hour and change, and I was drained. In the good way. And still standing, despite my lower back screaming at me. And it was over in plenty of time to get dinner with Emily and Robert. (Troy has a Dinosaur BBQ, and it was spectacular — do have the fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese.)
This was, as The Fleshtones sang on another song off the new album, how to make a day go away. A couple days ago, after a friend gave me his tickets for Patti Smith’s appearance in Hartford three nights back, I told my Facebook friends that I felt grateful and humbled a lot of late. I sure as hell did yesterday. How many more Fleshtones shows do they — we — have left? Life has gotten so goddamned finite this year — the plethora of music-legend deaths the first half of ’16; the deaths of my father and the parents of quite a few friends; the loss of a friend from cancer on Wednesday. I’m learning how to cherish a lot more things. And people. And happenings. Like yesterday. For now, we still have The Fleshtones. And an easy excuse to gather with friends on a beautiful afternoon, following a gorgeous leaf-drive through the Berkshires.
PS: As a bonus, I learned from Peter how they came up with a song about the cape worn by the keyboardist for Yes. He said the whole thing came to him in a dream — sung not by The Fleshtones, but by some band that was performing on top of one of those psychedelic-decorated vans. It was all a dream. And maybe someone will write a song about Count Zaremba’s cape someday …