When a band as enigmatic and elusive as the Flesh Eaters re-emerges from the shadows and stalks America in an unexpected tour in support of their new album I Used To Be Pretty on Yep Roc Records, any local music enthusiast who leans into punk should take heed, immediately, for they are zooming to the Continental Club for a one-night stand.
Throughout the late-1970s to the mid-1980s, Los Angeles became defined by a melting pot of tribes
and subcultures, and the Flesh Eaters formed part of the prescient, dark, roots-punk core that also gave rise to the Gun Club (whose titular tune “She’s Like Heroin to Me” they cover), Tex and the Horseheads, and others. In doing so, the Flesh Eaters marked a gritty, luminous path that few can facsimile.
I Used To Be Pretty forages through their catalog and grabs musical hostages from their lauded earlier albums and re-cuts them for a strange new century. But I assure listeners, the Flesh Eaters are certainly not refrigerated relics; instead, they remain an open gate to the netherworld. As a singular and potent super-group that has borrowed members from legendary acts like X, the Blasters, and Los Lobos, their output in
the 1980s was roiling, menacing, and eerie.
At the helm, Chris D. (Desjardins) has remained as unique as Nick Cave. Both are beguiling
figures cut from a similar cloth – intellectual without being wooden, highly-charged without being self-destructive, and just sinister enough to keep a listener’s pores puckered. And Desjardins’ sterling mates on the new record, including John Doe of X and Dave Alvin of the Blasters — every bit as profound in their own careers — will be joining Desjardins for the live romp.
Like a margin walker exuding hard-bitten attitude, Desjardins blurs boundaries, splicing together an early lust for punk life (ala groundbreaker Patti Smith and French writers), with an encyclopedic knowledge of film, music production chops from his time spent on albums by the Gun Club, Dream Syndicate, Green on Red, as well as his own barbed metaphoric devices.
“I always end up going back to symbolists,” Desjardins said last week as he prepped for the tour. “19th century France, like Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Octave Mirbeau, the author of The Diary of a Chambermaid and The Torture Garden, who were very subversive in just the way they looked at life without a set of ground rules that society had set up to try and keep the population under control. So, that is always kind of a sub-text. I look at politics from the standpoint of a poet first…”
On “Black Temptation,” a startling new tune, he is a shapeshifting rock’n’roll shaman who can morph and metastasize from offering a woozy, incantatory croon to a demonic howl within a few seconds while guided through the saxophone din by the voice of his former wife Julie Christensen, a band-mate from their venture Divine Horsemen.
And staying close to the album’s initial slow-paced purvey, “House Amid the Thickets,” first let loose in 1999, features a mystifying, beautiful temptress enrapturing the narrator (“why am I such a foolish man”) and sways with melancholy and self-denigration. Yet, “My Life to Live” re-steers the whole affair into something akin to adrenalin-fueled barroom rock. “Green Manalishi” is a brooding gumbo that could have been a Doors terror-dream but is actually a psych-rock tune by an early line-up of Fleetwood Mac. Meanwhile, “Miss Muerte” and “The Youngest Profession” unveil murky blues wallops seemingly conjured in beaten-up corner bars of Detroit and Chicago.
“It’s funny,” Dejardins admitted, “because with a lot of those blues guys, I wasn’t really thinking about where they were from when I heard them. John Lee Hooker is another one. I love his stuff, especially his very late 1940s and early 1950's material that sounds like he’s recording in an underground mausoleum or something. I love that kind of sound, that basic primitive sound – the kind that raises the hair on the back of your neck when you listen to it.”
Dejardin’s feral, lurking intelligence is constantly at play, scouring history and culture, including evoking the lost, manic, B-movie Babylon of crumbling Hollywood. Watch his mondo montage video for “Cinderella,” a cover of mid-1960’s Northwest garage-rock pioneers the Sonics. Other tunes depict Mexican street-level rites and rituals, like “The Wedding Dice," one of the band’s gripping tunes originally cast in 1982 and re-recorded with even more pummeling intensity and surge.
With similar stellar forcefulness that belies their age, the greatest gift of the album may be “Poney Dress,” first released in 1979, which is as every bit as lightning-packed as any tune they have ever forged. Last on the album, “Ghost Cave Lament” is a 13-minute opus inspired by flamenco and feels like an excursion into the fiction of queer Beat Generation anti-hero Williams S. Burroughs.
Whereas any casual listener can embark on a memory lane full of dog-eared, scratched-up Black Flag, Fear, and Dickies records, the Flesh Eaters have a more select audience. They did not make rank’n’file ruckus, rebel-yell music for the buzzed-hair teen spirits, or nihilistic soundtracks for the dystopia that was Los Angeles. They conjured records that explored deeper corners of the human psyche. In doing so, they distilled potions from bluesy Howlin’ Wolf and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, any number of drunk country howlers, and the exquisite corpses of writers ranging from Antonin Artaud to Charles Bukowski.
And Dejardins is well aware of Texas being its own musical Eden, of sorts, too. “The person that
easily comes to mind almost immediately is Roky Erickson. I liked the 13th Floor Elevators, and I loved the Roky that was around and making records in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the “It's A Cold Night for Alligators” and “Two Headed Dog” kind of stuff. He was somebody that was definitely in touch with another
dimension in the best possible way – the dimension of his psyche.”
In turn, the Flesh Eaters' music amounts to a dark mélange too, a ragged noir poem tethered to a thundering backbeat. It conjures a soundtrack for a world of tattered card players, filthy old-timer go-go bars, inky-black nights, rot-gut infected intellectuals, and lounges stuck in narcotized time. For a brief time at the Continental, you will be privy to that state of mind as history unfurls in Dejardins’ tunes.
The Flesh Eaters, with opener Sean Wheeler, is scheduled for 9 p.m. February 21, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. For information, call 713-529-9899 or visit continentalclub.com/houston. Over 21. $28.50 - $57 plus fees.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.