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House of Tudor 

The Fleshtones were retro-rockin' long before the White Stripes – and they still are

Wednesday, Oct 1 2003
Tiny Voices, the ninth recording by Los Angeles songwriter Joe Henry, lolls on the edge of time in a juniper berry haze, as elegant and tarnished as a martini service left to gather dust on a windowsill in Myanmar. Richer and more textural even than the music on 2001's Scar, which drew on the loose-limbed grace of Ornette Coleman, Brad Mehldau, and Marc Ribot, Tiny Voices' jazzy pop-noir places greater emphasis on the vacancies at the end of the bar, both musical and physical, which only Henry's voice and imagination can fill. Last year, Henry honed this faculty for grand scarcity as producer of Solomon Burke's Grammy-winning album Don't Give It Up; here, though, his affinity for emptiness is felt rather than fashioned. His characters -- never-known revolutionaries, fading beauties, cowardly romantics, pretty houseboys, impossible loves, and likely liars -- flicker within humid landscapes of sighs and flourishes (provided by jazzmen Don Byron and Ron Miles, and keyboardists Dave Palmer and Patrick Warren) as Henry's dry, dusty voice curls around the edges and flutters in heat. There's little chance anyone was actually alone during the five-day recording session at Sunset Sound Factory where Henry holed up with seven other musicians and a batch of skeletal song sketches, but nevertheless, Tiny Voices conjures very real loneliness, both claustrophobic and infinitely vast, and awfully difficult to shake. Joe Henry performs on Wednesday, Oct. 1, at the Great American Music Hall with Paula Frazer opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 885-0750 or go to

What do you get when you combine a one-woman accordion band with a theremin and a human beatbox? A musical chimera that might make even members of the Odeon staff, those well-trained experts in pleasing peculiarities and painful transgressions, raise an eyebrow. Anyone who has seen Yuri Lane the human beatbox perform in his one-man show From Tel Aviv to Ramallah at Spanganga need not be convinced that 10 minutes of this guy onstage is worth the price of admission; those of you who haven't seen the show will no doubt be buying tickets before the night is through (he performs Ramallah Thursdays through Sundays at Spanganga through Oct. 19). But let me say this: Lane is not a human; he is a MIDI made flesh, one of the seven wonders of the Mission. Esmerelda Strange, however, is human, although you may not believe it. Strange is a one-woman band. She sings, she plays accordion, she plays drums, she even hits a tambourine, any one of which might seem fantastic and unlikely in normal human hands, but Strange does it all at once, in French. It must be seen, if only to say you've seen it. And what the brave and brazen Ms. Strange might lack in elegance and savoir-faire Project: Pimento compensates for in spades. Led by the eerie virtuosity of Robby Virus on theremin and the sexy, breathy coos of Lola Bombay on lungs, this quartet will forever change the way you think about the Dead Kennedys. Now picture them all playing together in a late-night free-for-all. Don't laugh, it could happen. Yuri Lane, Esmerelda Strange, and Project: Pimento perform on Friday, Oct. 3, at the Odeon at 9 p.m. Tickets are $6; call 550-6994.

You'd think that, as witnesses to three garage rock "revivals" and creators of more than 15 full-length albums, the Fleshtones might be a little bitter or at least disenchanted by the fact that a bunch of upstarts from Detroit bit their style and reaped unimagined rewards from critics and crowds, especially given that most of the kids in bands like the White Stripes, the Strokes, or the Hives weren't even a lascivious leer in their daddies' eyes when the Fleshtones were irreverently reviving the Farfisa now-sound in 1976. But not so. If anything, it seems a smidge of youthful competition has revitalized the New York quartet. Produced by Southern Culture on the Skids' Rick Miller, Do You Swing? is the Fleshtones' greatest album since their 1983 near-breakout record, Hexbreaker. From the effervescent opening trifecta of "Do You Swing?," "Hard Lovin' Man," and "Destination Greenpoint"(a tribute to low rent and Polish girls) to the raucous roundup of "1-4-5" (a tribute to the popular chord progression) and "Are You Ready for the Mountain," Do You Swing? actually captures the giddy, goofy joy of the Fleshtones' live show, which is no small task. The Fleshtones headline the Budget Rock Festival on Saturday, Oct. 4, at Thee Parkside with Omens, Rattlesnakes, and Teenage Harlets opening at 4 p.m. (Jail Birds, Rock and Roll Adventure Kids, Ghosts, and Coppertones play the second stage.) And again on Sunday, Oct. 5, with Harold Ray Live in Concert, Magic Christian, SLA, and Sleaves opening at 4 p.m. (Husbands, Shambles, and Nubs play the second stage.) Tickets are $10; call 503-0393 or go to

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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