Wednesday, August 01, 2012

51 Years On, The Zombies Still Roam the Earth, Melodically -- Concert Review

Concert Review

The Zombies
Viper Alley, Lincolnshire, IL
July 31, 2012

My Mt. Rushmore of British Invasion bands has always been the Beatles, Stones, Who and Kinks.

But with due respect to the Animals, Hollies, Yardbirds, Searchers, Herman's Hermits, Dave Clark 5, Mannfred Mann, Gerry & the Pacemakers and anyone else--not counting Cream, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Traffic or Deep Purple, who came later--over the past decade I've come to appreciate that The Zombies likely rank fifth in this exalted category.

For a long time before that, I didn't give the Zombies much thought and when I did, it was likely in reference to one of these three songs: "She's Not There," "Tell Her No" and "Time of the Season."

I don't think it was until 2003, when the inclusion of Odessey and Oracle at #80 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" prompted me to explore that 1968 masterpiece--released after the Zombies had initially disbanded--and more of their great early singles, that I came to appreciate the breadth and brilliance of the band formed in 1961 by Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White, Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy while they were schoolboys in St. Albans, England. (For a sampling of The Zombies beyond their three biggest hits, you can listen to the Spotify playlist I embedded at the bottom of this post.)

The timing of my Zombie awakening was fortuitous, for in October 2004 I was astute enough to attend a Park West double-bill with a reconstituted Zombies (keyboardist Argent and singer Blunstone have long been the mainstays) and another terrific, underappreciated '60s band, Love, whose leader Arthur Lee would pass away in 2006.

I recall that show being very good and although I haven't heard much about the Zombies' activity in the intervening years--completely missing that they released a well-reviewed album, Breathe In, Breathe Out in 2011--when I noted that they would be playing Viper Alley, a new club in Lincolnshire, I was eager to see them again. (The Zombies also performed at the Mayne Stage in Rogers Park on Wednesday.)

The concert was a very enjoyable reminder of a legendary band's great legacy, as Argent and Blunstone--accompanied by bassist Jim Rodford, a friend of theirs from '61 and a latter-day Kink, drummer Steve Rodford (Jim's son) and guitarist Tom Toomey--ran through 105 minutes of Zombies' singles, a collection of songs from Odessey and Oracle, tunes from their post-Zombie careers and a number of cuts from their latest album. (See the full setlist below.)

Ironically, while I particularly treasured hearing Odessey gems like "A Rose For Emily," "This Will Be Our Year" and "Beechwood Park," on these songs of delicate beauty it was all the more apparant that Blumstone's voice--though still a fine instrument at age 67--is a good step less supple and sublime than it once was.

Thus, in terms of technical merit, renditions of the new songs, a singalong of the Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?" and a powerful rendition of Argent's (Rod's eponymous '70s band) "Hold Your Head Up," were more faithfully delivered. Guitarist Toomey, who's only been with the Zombies for three years, especially impressed along with Argent & Blunstone, who despite pushing 70 are both--incidentally--still blessed with great hair.

Without quite the high notes for Colin to not quite hit, "Tell Her No," "Time of the Season" and "She's Not There" were robustly and satisfyingly rendered, and I couldn't help but be awed at how ahead of its time the latter song--supposedly just the second one Argent ever wrote, according to Wikipedia--was upon its release in mid-1964. Who else was incorporating electric piano runs at that point? If you think about how rock 'n roll went from "Peggy Sue" (1958) to "Purple Haze" (1967) in 9 years, it's not hard to imagine "She's Not There" being something of a catalyst.

Over the past year or so, I've had the pleasure of seeing several of Argent & Blunstone's exalted 1960s' contemporaries: Paul McCartney, Ray Davies (of the Kinks), Roger McGuinn (of the Byrds) and the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson; though the Zombies' performance was a little lesser--as is their legacy--they quite enjoyably reaffirmed that they very much belong in the same run-on sentence.

This was my first visit to Viper Alley, and to my recollection, the first time I've seen a rock concert at a venue with table seating, which seems to be coming more into vogue.

It was comfortable enough, even if the layout has 2/3 of the crowd seated off to the right side of the stage, without any obvious speakers pointing that way. For the right performer I'd go back, but more despite the venue--whose food menu seemed kind of pricey--than because of it.

A local band called Thrift Store Halo opened the show with a set of originals and a few choice covers. Though I've never heard of them, they seemingly had a bit of success in the '90s and reunited to handle this opening slot. They sounded a bit like the Gin Blossoms and provided a pleasurable warm-up.

This is the Zombies setlist from Viper Alley, followed by a Spotify playlist offering a number of great songs:

I Love You
Can't Nobody Love You
Breathe Out, Breathe In (new)
I Want You Back Again
What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted
Miracles (Colin Blunstone song)
Show Me the Way (new)
Any Other Way (new)
A Rose for Emily
Care of Cell 44
This Will Be Our Year
Beechwood Park
I Want Her She Wants Me
Time of the Season
A Moment In Time (new)
Whenever You're Ready
Tell Her No
Old And Wise (Blunstone song from The Alan Parsons Project)
Hold Your Head Up (Argent cover)
She's Not There
God Gave Rock And Roll to You (Argent cover)
Summertime (Gershwin)

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