[ELECTRO-POP] With its elaborate makeup and custom-made sexed-up costumes, Fleshtone has always put its own twist on the rock opera. Past shows have included softcore porn-ish hot-dog outfits, jungle gyms and grown men in diapers—all of which has made the troupe one of Portland's more controversial, not to mention polarizing. But, considering a recent Valentine's show where Fleshtone appeared as more band than theater—you know, with live instrumentation and plenty of singing—that may be changing.
Originally an extension of founding member Jayme Hansen's performance art (which included wrestling in barbecue sauce and birthing a man from a giant onstage vagina), Fleshtone's electro-odyssey launched in 2004 with a single show at Holocene. It then became a monthly event, evolving into a 21-song rock opera chronicling the life of a "messiahlike" character named Mamma Fleshtone. But the mercurial outfit—once 12 members strong, including live dancers and Copy's Marius Libman—dwindled to four, then three members following an '06 Time-Based Art Festival appearance (which keyboardist Brett Whitman jokingly likens to a Styx album). The group saw its pared-down form as an opportunity.
"Even though we've been working together for four or five years," says Hansen, 28, "it feels brand new." The group (which is rounded out by drummer/dancer Kim Hansen) has always seen itself as more than just a band—an outlet for fashion, makeup, dancing and music. But in the past, they admit, songwriting has taken a back seat to performance. "We put a lot into our costumes and dance routines, trying to combine that in equal balance with music," says Jayme. "That's something we've tried to balance for years now." Whitman agrees, saying past shows sometimes felt like "watching this narrative rather than being fully immersed in it."
Fleshtone, in short, wants to be a real band. To that end, it's dabbling in catchy, synth-driven disco beats and incorporating spiritual lyrics. But don't look for Fleshtone to drop the theatrics: "I think people have lost sight of the idea that you can be really flashy and be really showy, and it's not a gimmick," says Whitman. "It's one important part of the whole thing." Still, a little extra substance won't hurt Fleshtone's style.
SEE IT: Fleshtone plays Monday, May 5, with Yo Majesty; Does It Offend You, Yeah? and DJ Beyonda at Rotture. 9 pm. $12. 21+.