It can be said that a decades-dormant “classic” band reuniting on the strength its potential appeal as a nostalgia act is only as good as the material it reunites to resurrect. In the case of a legendary sixties-era group such as The Zombies – a band whose debut album still ranks among the greatest pop albums ever released – the inclusion of just two original members bolstered by several additional seasoned musicians makes for a live show that’s every bit as amazing as it was when the band played out in its original incarnation.
Another band whose popularity piqued in the late sixties is New York’s The Left Banke. Even if you don’t know their name, it would be almost impossible to have any kind of musical consciousness and not know the group’s two most famous songs, “Walk Away Renee” (their first release and a #2 chart topper) and “Pretty Ballerina.” As stellar examples of the power of the minor chord in pop music, both songs are indelible classics, covered endlessly and still lauded for their compositional perfection.
That these two songs have attained “Satisfaction” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” status is not to insinuate that The Left Banke were One (or two) Hit Wonders, but rather to emphasize the out of control songwriting talents in a band that basically coined the phrase “Baroque Pop” for its inclusion of string arrangements and multi-part harmonies. The Left Banke is unarguably an important entry in the history of American Rock that provided inspiration for innumerable pop bands that arrived in its wake.
A few years ago, The Left Banke reunited with two of its original members and is now performing live again with a band comprised of some of the most versatile and experienced musicians on the east coast. If you happen to live in the tri-state area, where the group seems to be booking most of its shows, I suggest you would in for quite a treat if you were able to check them out live. I had the chance to see The Left Banke recently when they played at BB King’s in Times Square and everyone in the packed house experienced a magical evening.
The reunited Left Banke includes original band members George Cameron (originally the group’s drummer) providing vocals and hand percussion, and Tom Finn on guitars, vocals and bass. They are joined in this new – and expanded –line up by gifted vocalist and frontman Mike Fornatale, guitarist Paul Alves (formerly of Drill), bassist Charly Cazalet, Keyboard player Mickey Finn (Boss Hog), Drummer Rick Reil (guitarist for The Grip Weeds and Wyld Olde Souls) and a three piece string section. Cameron and Finn can still play and sing well, and their passion for music and performing for fans has not cooled at all in the intervening years. The band maintains a lush and rocking sound with Mike Fornatale’s mellifluous voice providing spot on renditions of classic songs from the band’s first two albums.
The guys promised the crowd that the evening would hold some “Surprises” and a highlight of the evening came very early in the set, when original Left Banke keyboardist and songwriter Michael Brown joined the band on stage to play piano for a faithful rendition of his composition, “Pretty Ballerina.” This was certainly something that no one in BB King’s expected to see, and Brown, who is visibly frail and had to be helped on and off the stage, played beautifully, receiving a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd. Rick Brand, guitarist with the band from 1966-67 was also in attendance but did not perform with the band.
The evening’s lively performance featured a comprehensive 22-song set list including favorites like “She May Call You Up Tonight,” “Desiree” and “Goodbye Holly,” and also showcased a new song called “City Life,” sung by Tom Finn, which rocked hard but still captured the essence of the classic band’s sound.
The Left Banke Set List for April 29th, 2012 at BB King’s in NYC:
She May Call You Up Tonight
I’ve Got Something On My Mind
Dark is the Bark
Let Go Of You Girl
Sing Little Bird Sing
Nice to See You
My Friend Today
Shadows Breaking Over My Head
I Can Fly
Love Songs in the Night
Two By Two
I Haven’t Got the Nerve
There’s Gonna Be a Storm
Walk Away Renee