I went to see The Zombies’ 50th Anniversary show in Manhattan with a slight sense of trepidation. After all, this was the band who first turned me on to the possibilities of rock and pop music when I was knee high to a grasshopper back in Ontario, Canada, where I sat entranced, staring at the psychedelic cover of their now classic album of psych-pop, Odessey and Oracle, as its miraculous songs rolled by one after another on my record player.
Would the Zombies – could the Zombies – possibly still sound the same and conjure up the magic they had, it seemed, effortlessly emitted from the grooves of that vinyl all those years ago?
I needn’t have worried. After a cautious start, befitting a band of British music veterans who know that a warm-up is essential to a great performance, the Zombies, including original members Colin Blunstone on vocals and Rod Argent on keyboards and vocals, found their sweet spot on the night’s fourth song, “Breathe Out, Breathe In,” the title track of their ace new album. From then on, it was clear sailing.
This night, as Argent stressed between songs, was all about “connections,” in which the songs played were not only by the Zombies proper, but by their various inspired solo and group offshoots. One of the best of these was the evening’s fifth song, “I Don’t Believe In Miracles,” a yearning ballad of lost love penned by Russ Ballard (the vocalist for Argent’s eponymous ’70s group), which also became a solo hit in England for Blunstone.
“Any Other Way,” another offering from the latest Zombies platter, its catchy chorus sounding like a hit the band had been playing for years, pushed the concert’s momentum forward quite nicely. Then came the moment many in attendance had been waiting for: a six-song mini-set culled from Odessey and Oracle.
Of these, “A Rose For Emily” highlighted the delicate vocal interplay that is the band’s trademark, with Blunstone and Argent still sounding fresh and unaffected by the years that have passed since they first recorded the song. “Beechwood Park” was suitably eerie, drenched in Argent’s organ stylings, while “Time of the Season,” the band’s biggest hit, retained its feel of the Dionysiac lust and danger underlying the innocence of the Summer of Love.
It was a testament to the strength of the band’s new album that two of its songs which followed this transcendent mini-set, “Play It For Real,” and “Moment In Time,” didn’t seem like a huge drop-off in quality. Instead, they fit in beautifully, and by the time of the final triple-hit whammy of “Tell Her No,” “Hold Your Head Up” (a ’70s smash for Argent) and “She’s Not There,” the audience was quite delirious with joy.
The “connections” theme again resounded in the encores, as the Zombies showed they are at home at the extreme ends of popular culture by giving an airing to “God Gave Rock and Roll To You,” another Argent hit penned by Russ Ballard and later covered by KISS, and then finishing the night with a very sultry and smoky “Summertime,” a George Gershwin cover which highlighted the skillful crooning of Blunstone.
If there were some in the house who weren’t true believers by this point, they remained well hidden. The Zombies had indeed lived up to their ever-expanding legend — and more.
1. “Sticks and Stones”
2. “I Love You”
3. “Can’t Nobody Love You”
4. “Breathe Out, Breathe In”
5. “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”
6. “I Don’t Believe In Miracles”
7. “Show Me the Way”
8. “Any Other Way”
9. “A Rose for Emily”
10. “Care of Cell 44″
11. “This Will Be Our Year”
12. “Beechwood Park”
13. “I Want Her She Wants Me”
14. “Time of the Season”
15. “Play It For Real”
16. “Moment In Time”
17. “Whenever You’re Ready”
18. “Tell Her No”
19. “Hold Your Head Up”
20. “She’s Not There”
21. “God Gave Rock and Roll To You”
— Review by Johnny “Gutter” Walker; photos by Greg Cristman