Live Review: baroque-pop bliss with The Left Banke & The Zombies
The double bill of a lifetime.
When it comes to ‘60s baroque-pop, barring The Beatles circa '66, The Left Banke and The Zombies are about as good as it gets. But even though the latter formed back in 1961 and the former just four years later, it took until 2012 for all the elements to align leading to these ‘60s pop legends finally sharing a bill.
Both groups initially had foreshortened, frustrating careers, and both had closed up shop before the ‘60s were over. But The Zombies started working together again around 2000, led by founding members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone. And in 2011, The Left Banke followed suit, with original members Tom Finn and George Cameron leading the charge.
Some beneficent booking agent decided to make several hundred baroque-pop fans' dreams come true by bringing the bands together on a single bill for the first time ever, on August 5-6 at New York's Highline Ballroom and August 9 at the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. On the second night of their Highline stand, The Zombies and The Left Banke brought to life some of the most elegant art-pop compositions ever crafted.
Hometown heroes The Left Banke opened up the evening, playing not only a healthy sampling from their first and second albums, but also rarities like their 1972 single "Love Songs in the Night." The revamped band may not contain original vocalist Steve Martin or keyboardist Michael Brown, but it's clear they have no intentions of half-assing anything. They lovingly recreated the original arrangements of classic cuts like "Desiree," "Pretty Ballerina," and of course, their signature song, "Walk Away, Renee," dragging a real-deal string section and two keyboardists on stage to help capture every orchestral nuance. And when fearsomely flexible singer Mike Fornatale locked his lungs onto the graceful, sometimes rather acrobatic melodies, it was obvious the legacy of the Left Banke was in good hands. Hearing him harmonize with Finn and Cameron on the band's subtle, sophisticated songs of yearning, it's tough to keep a tear or two from trickling down. And when the band kicked up the garage-rock quotient on tunes like "Lazy Day," with guitarist Paul Alves turning his fuzz pedal to 10, the crowd that moments earlier found itself applauding a string flourish was served a visceral reminder that The Left Banke are rock & rollers as well as symphonic sophisticates.
The Zombies are The Left Banke's seniors by a few years, but there must be a Dorian Gray-esque portrait of the British band that's getting very old somewhere in contrast to Blunstone and Argent's striking youthfulness. Against all odds, 67-year-old Blunstone still sounds like a choirboy who stole the church keys for band practice, while Argent's athletic presence on the keyboards suggests some significant chunks of time spent on an elliptical trainer. The Zombies were eager to air a few songs from their surprisingly strong new album, Breathe Out, Breathe In, but they weren't shy about giving the crowd the nuggets that put all those posteriors in place at The Highline. In addition to playing a mid-show mini-set featuring half of the legendary Odessey and Oracle [sic] album, they pulled out early hits like "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No," alongside less ubiquitous mid-‘60s singles such as "I Want You Back Again" and "Whenever You're Ready." The addition of songs from Argent and Blunstone's extracurricular projects proved to be a bit of a mixed bag - the audience could quite conceivably have survived without "Old and Wise," a song originally cut by the Alan Parsons Project with Blunstone, but Argent's organ work on the classic-rock staple "Hold Your Head Up," from the band that bore his surname, was triumphant. And by the time the band closed with their hushed, spooky version of the Gershwin standard "Summertime," most of the crowd had duly melted into their seats.
The pairing of these two bands, who created some of the most affecting music ever to fly the twin flags of art and pop, was a rarefied pleasure that no one fortunate enough to experience it should take for granted. Those who missed out had best hope the artistes involved don't want to wait another 45 years before teaming up again.
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