The Zombies and The Left Banke
Highline Ballroom, New York, August 5
by Stephen Slaybaugh

It’s no secret that the ’60s were a golden era for rock music. But 50 years later, anyone aside of The Beatles, Stones, and The Who has largely been forgotten by subsequent generations. As such, even groups with multiple Top 10 hits and catalogs every bit as rich as their legendary contemporaries have been relegated to an almost cult-like status instead of revered as the progenitors that they were.

The Left Banke and The Zombies (pictured above) are two such bands. Admittedly, the former was relatively short-lived (they only lasted from 1965 to 1969 in their initial incarnation) and only had a couple of hits, “Walk Away Renee,” which went to number 5 on the Billboard chart, and “Pretty Ballerina,” which went to number 15. Both songs were released in 1966. The Zombies, on the other hand, formed in 1961 and lasted until 1968. They had hits in 1964, “She’s Not There” (number 2) and “Tell Her No” (number 6), and 1969, “Time of the Season” (number 3).

Nevertheless, the double bill of The Left Banke and The Zombies seemed a perfect billing. Odyssey and Oracle, The Zombies celebrated masterwork from the heart of their career (1968), shared the ornate aesthetic of The Left Banke’s baroque pop, while The Left Banke probably had more in common with the Brits of their era than anything emanating from their Brooklyn hometown.

As one would expect, both bands have undergone some transformations. The Left Banke, who began the evening, only features two remaining original members: guitarist Tom Finn and drummer George Camerons, who has relinguished his seat behind the skins for just vocal duties. It’s disappointing that Michael Brown, who wrote both of the band’s big hits and provided the band’s signature keyboard sound, hasn’t rejoined the fold as was rumored after he joined the band for a performance earlier this year. Still, Mike Fornatale is a superb stand-in for original singer Steve Martin, while the rest of the band did an ample job of recreating the band’s oeuvre. The best moments of the night were when their three-piece string section took the spotlight, as was the case with “Love Songs in the Night,” not only the highlight of the set, but perhaps also of the band’s catalog, and “Walk Away Renee,” which ended the night. But despite the large ensemble (they measured 11 members), the band never managed to replicate its backpages with the same richness, and as such, it was hard not to be a little underwhelmed.

The Zombies, however, did not disappoint. Beginning with “I Love You,” it was immediately apparent that singer Colin Blunstone’s pipes were still in top form. The Zombies too have morphed into a different band, with only Rod Argent from the original line-up joining Blunstone. Jim Rodford, who played with Rod and original Zombie Chris White in Argent after the Zombies split, was on bass, while his son Steve was on drums and on guitar is Tom Toomey. Similarly, the band is not just an oldies act. Blumstone and Argent first reunited in 2001, recording the Out of the Shadows album under their given names before eventually assuming The Zombies moniker again to release As Far As I Can See... in 2004 and last year’s Breathe Out, Breathe In.

My only problem with the performance was Argent’s constant reminders of the band’s importance. He continually introduced each song by citing the endorsements of other musicians like Dave Grohl and The Vaccines. The band’s music stands on its own and those in attendance obviously didn’t need their entertainment for the evening validated. Nonetheless, I’m glad Argent understands the impact Odyssey and Oracle has made, and the mini suite of songs from the record proved to be one of the night’s great pleasures. We were treated to half the album, including “A Rose for Emily” and “Beachwood Park.” One might have expected The Zombies to close their set with “Time of the Season,” but they still had plenty left. We got both “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There,” which closed their set on an impossibly high note before a two-song encore, as well as Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up,” which didn’t seem out of place despite being recorded several years past The Zombies’ prime. “Just Out of Reach” and a run through Gershwin’s “Summertime” closed the night. These types of shows have the potential to go either way, but both bands proved that the talent that first launched them decades ago hasn’t dwindled in the interim.