Colin Blunstone, singer for The Zombies and solo artist was born on this day June 24th, in 1945. I’ve been very lucky to see Colin perform three times, once doing his solo stuff and twice with keyboard player Rod Argent as the reformed Zombies, doing all of that band’s greatest hits of the 60s as well as popular tunes from Rod’s 70s band, Argent. I can tell you that Colin’s voice is still as buttery smooth and seductive today as it was when he was a teenager. Happy Birthday, Colin!
Keyboard player and composer Rod Argent of The Zombies and Argent was born on this day, June 14th, in 1945. Read my review of The Zombies mind blowingly great 2011 performance at NYC’s City Winery at This Link. Happy Birthday, Rod!
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. Visit The Left Banke’s Official Website for upcoming show listings and to purchase the band’s music.
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
The Zombies have been hailed as the best original British Invasion act touring today that isn’t fronted by Mick Jagger, and I’m going to have to agree with that. At age 66, I’d venture a guess that Zombies’ front man Colin Blunstone’s breathy vocal stylings and faux orgasmic ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ on the band’s legendary hit, “Time of The Season” probably still get him laid. What a set of pipes that guy has! Even his speaking voice slays me. Blunstone and Keyboard player/songwriter Rod Argent may be the only original Zombies’ members present from its sixties incarnation, but for all intents and purposes, this band is the real deal, with Blunstone and Argent having enlisted top shelf musicians to bring their beloved classic sound to the fans. In the live band, bass guitar and backing vocals are handled by the very adept Jim Rodford, a career-long friend to the original Zombies as well as a founding member of Argent and bassist for The Kinks from 1978 – 1996; quite a pedigree! Rodford’s son Steve is the band’s current drummer, with Tom Toomey, who joined in 2010, on lead guitar. I’m not one to generally be swayed by a nostalgia act, but this incarnation of The Zombies is truly a band for all Seasons.
The capacity crowd at City Winery was clearly in the house to hear the hits and I doubt anyone left feeling disappointed. Drawing from its tiny, three-album back catalog – including 1967’s untouchable Odessey and Oracle – the band packed the evening with hits, favorites, covers and tunes from various members’ solo careers, as well as a new CD of all original songs, Breathe Out, Breathe In, just released in celebration of the band’s 50th Anniversary. Also in honor of that landmark event, City Winery had bottled a special vintage of Sauvignon Blanc (see photo below), which was sold at the shows to enjoy during the performance or to take home as a souvenir/collector’s item!
It’s worth noting, I think, that The Zombies originally disbanded before the release of Odessey and Oracle, and never performed any of its songs onstage. So, while there are no sixties-era “definitive live versions” of these songs, the haunting vibe of their original recordings still sounds amazingly intact live. Seriously, close your eyes while Blunstone is singing “Time of The Season” and it’s difficult to tell the difference. The group’s ability to replicate The Zombies unique sound with only two original members is what elevates their performances to must-see events, especially for anyone who grew up loving these songs. Not only do they play and sound great, but they are also cool guys who talk to the audience, joke around and tell stories between songs, so you really feel like you are spending the evening catching up with old friends. The show was just awesome.
Previously, the band has done the rare show where Odessey and Oracle is performed in its entirety, and while that was not the case this evening, the critically lauded album did get preferential treatment. A transcendent rendition of the ridiculously upbeat “This Will Be Our Year” completely wiped the floor with Foo Fighters’ recently released respectful, yet disappointingly low-key, cover of that tune (Dave Grohl evidentially being a huge Zombies fan – who knew?). Other Odessey favorites performed on Monday, September 26th (the band returned to the venue for a second performance on Tuesday the 27th) included “A Rose for Emily” (The Zombies’ answer to “Eleanor Rigby”), “Beechwood Park,” “I Want Her, She Wants Me” and the most jubilant pop song ever written about welcoming a lover home from prison, “Care Of Cell 44.” What an amazing song that is!
Giving both Argent and Blunstone equal time to roll out highlights from their own solo careers, The Zombies performed a rousing and inspirational version of “Hold Your Head Up” – which was a massive hit in 1972 for Rod Argent’s eponymous post-Zombies group – with Blunstone giving a joyous and passionate delivery of the classic originally sung by Argent vocalist Russ Ballard. With its memorable, insistent lead keyboard riffs and strident military drum cadence, the emotionally stirring performance of “Hold Your Head Up” came complete with Argent’s “Inna Gadda Da Vida-esque” extended keyboard solo!
Getting close to the end of a nearly two-hour set, the band brought it down a bit with an audience sing-along of another Argent hit, the rock anthem “God Gave Rock & Roll To You” – which was later covered very successfully by Kiss (Confession: I admit I had no idea that it was not a Kiss song). “She’s Not There” was the final Zombies’ offering before they closed the evening on a strong note with the much loved standard “Summertime” – included on The Zombies’ 1965 debut, Begin Here – from the Gershwin musical Porgy & Bess. After the set, my friend and I were lucky enough to get to visit back stage and meet the band, and it was especially cool to meet Colin and Rod, who are amazingly nice and very gracious.
The Zombies are currently on tour in the States, Canada and the UK through the end of 2011, and you really should not miss them. Visit This Link to grab tickets for a show in or near your town.
Thanks to Melani Rogers for the Guest List Action!