In Little Steven's Underground Garage — his Sirius Satellite Radio channel and weekly syndicated program on the plain ol' FM dial— guitars are king, songs should not be more than three minutes long and there are no ballads. There are privileged exceptions to those rules. One of them is the Sixties British band the Zombies, a quintet of public schoolboys (that's private school to us) who played a brisk, precociously inventive pop distinguished by Rod Argent's jazzy keyboard inflections and Colin Blunstone's improbably high, bright voice. Argent and Blunstone were the only founding members in the lineup topping the "Rolling Rock and Roll Show" -- Little Steven's latest touring version of his radio shows -- which pulled into New York's Irving Plaza last night. But their set emphasized that original snap'n'gleam, with the occasional jolt of heavy Seventies (the thumping hit "Hold Your Head Up" by Argent's post-Zombies group, Argent).
The highlight was a run of four songs from the Zombies' paisley masterpiece, 1968's Odyssey and Oracle, including the ballad "A Rose for Emily," sung with eternal-youth delicacy by Blunstone, accompanied only by piano and vocal harmonies. The performance broke the first and third of Steven's Underground Garage regulations — and it was worth it.
The other bands of the night were more orthodox but no less fun. The Woggles, from Atlanta, blew onto the stage with enthusiastic kitsch: white ruffled shirts, the white-James Brown getdown of singer The Professor. But the band's devotion to basics was plain in the Pretty Things-style romps from their latest album on Telstar, Ragged But Right. Local veteran party monsters the Fleshtones are actually older than a lot of garages, but they have not slowed down by a single mph since I first saw them in 1978 at the Mudd Club. "Do You Swing?" they demanded to know, three songs into their half-hour set, then showed us how it's really done: super-charged frat-rock with brass knuckles. New York's MC5-minus-one, the Mooney Suzuki, opened with a chunk of Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain," before bolting into the psycho-Diddley gallop of "Make My Way." Later, they showed off tunes from their next album, which adds some Seventies AC/DC to the Grande Ballroom zoom. I missed the first act, the Anderson Council from New Jersey (this show ran on time). But I can vouch for their sound — check out the Who-meets-Big Star freakbeat of the band's debut The Fall Parade (Groove Disques) — and the cool of their name, which comes from the surnames of two bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. You may know the band that used the first names: Pink Floyd.
The last stop on this month's "Rolling Rock and Roll Show," sponsored in most cities by Rolling Rock, is Nashville on September 29th. An October edition will be headlined by the Shadows of Knight and the Romantics, and you can give thanks in November, when the revue features the New York Dolls and the Chesterfield Kings.