Flat Duo Jets – Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13) review
Excuse me for being jaded
If I had a nickel for every time someone came to me with a band that, in their opinion, was the “pure essence of rock n’ roll,” or was “high energy” or “out of control” – honestly, I wouldn’t be writing this review, I’d be vacationing somewhere a lot warmer.
The truth is, I’ve used the Flat Duo Jets as a measuring stick for over three decades now – and nothing ever comes close to matching the fury that Dex Romweber (guitar/vocals) and Chris “Crow” Smith (drums) managed to conjure up during their 15 years together.
Daniel 13 has just issued the band’s 1990 debut full length (simply titled Flat Duo Jets), alongside a long-out-of-print, cassette-only EP dating from 1984, plus an entire disc of previously-unreleased material.
Disc one starts with their 1990 debut long player, and the opening strums of Romweber’s mail order, Sears Silvertone guitar (the ultimate in rock n’ roll primacy) on “My Life, My Love.” Like most of the album, the song is an obscure cover, as the pair had taken to combing thrift stores in search of material. Although they use early rock n’ roll as a springboard, this music is more primal – a psychotic marriage of rock and punk, played as if possessed by demons.
Inspiration comes from strange places – “Mill Stream” is actually “Down By the Old Mill Stream,” a turn-of-the-century number that’s often done in a barbershop style, while “Baby” (a 1954 hit for Ella Fitzgerald) shows that the pair could turn in a good ballad with at least some measure of restraint. “Madagascar” is a spooky, spaghetti western style original instrumental.
For a glimpse into how they made a song their own, do a Youtube search for “Chiquita” by the Dave Clark Five – it’s a gritty instrumental. But, in the hands of the Flat Duo Jets, they double the speed, add echoed guitar, and frenetic drumming, making it barely recognizable from the original.
Pinned on the end of disc one is the band’s In Stereo EP, originally only released on cassette in 1984. Opening with Romweber’s roaring “RRRRRRRiot in Cell Block Number Niiiiiiiiine,” this may be a cover of an early version of the Coasters (then called the Robins), but you’d barely know, as the duo plays with reckless abandon. “I’m Sorry” is a Bo Diddley obscurity, “Love Me” is the Elvis Presley ballad, and the lone original, “Theme From Dick Fontaine,” is pure surf rock. The original tape ends off with a pair of Buddy Holly album cuts – “Think It Over,” and “Raining in My Heart.”
Disc two features songs recorded for, but not released on the 1990 LP. Several of these showcase Romweber on piano, in a more reserved, informal setting. Highlights include “Minor Swing,” a Django Reinhardt cover; “Rock Me Baby,” originally by Wanda Jackson; and a killer rendition of the “Sleepwalk” instrumental, which really showcases Romweber’s prowess on guitar.
The real treat of the entire set is a link which allows you to download a digital booklet, 78 pages in length! Crammed full of concert posters, rare photos and essays, you really get a glimpse into the band’s history. Josh Grier, who ran Dolphin Records, has a great tale of Dexter trying to hawk cassettes to the people waiting in line at the Chapel Hill bank (and the police shooing him away).
This is some of the wildest music ever committed to tape – and it still stands up, over 30 years later. —Tony Peters