Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Quite an Odessey: At City Winery, the Legendary Zombies Still Live to Rock -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Zombies
w/ opening act Don DiLego
City Winery, Chicago
March 19, 2018 (also playing 3/20)

Who were the best musical artists of the 1960s?

Presumably, many an avid music fan could respectably name over 50 first-rate acts--The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beach Boys, Four Seasons, Supremes, Temptations, Cream, Creedence and on and on--before they might get to The Zombies.

Even in terms of British Invasion bands that accompanied or followed the Beatles and Stones, not only the Who and Kinks but the Animals, Hollies, Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Manfred Mann and the Yardbirds may be more top of mind.

For the Zombies really only had three hit singles--"She's Not There," "Tell Her No" and "Time of the
Season"--and their masterpiece album, Odessey and Oracle wasn't widely recognized as such until over a decade past its 1968 release (itself coming after the band had split up).

But thanks in good part to a Zombie resurrection in the early '00s that has seen core members Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent frequently tour under the group moniker, I've been prompted to more deeply mine the band's estimable '60s output.

Thanks to a gaggle of stellar singles--including "I Love You," "She's Coming Home," "Just Out of Reach" and "I Want You Back Again"--and the sublime Odessey and Oracle, I now consider the Zombies the fifth best British Invasion group, behind just the Beatles, Stones, Who and Kinks.

And with a stellar show Monday night at Chicago's City Winery--where they've also sold out a Tuesday gig--I've now seen the Zombies live three times, having also done so in 2004 (on a great double bill with Love) and 2012.

While lead singer Blunstone and keyboardist/vocalist Argent are now into their 70s, both still represent their strong legacy impressively well. (The three musicians touring with them are also stellar.)

And what made this show particularly sweet was how well songs from 2015's Still Got That Hunger--"Moving On," "Edge of the Rainbow" and "Chasing the Past"--fit in with the classics.

Introducing 2004's "Sanctuary," Argent relayed how Blunstone had joined him out of the blue at a charity gig a few years earlier after decades had passed without their making music together. The reconnection begat a handful of shows, an additional 19 years of touring (to date) and some fine new music.

Including extended renditions of two songs recorded by Argent's eponymous band--"Hold Your Head Up" and the closing "God Gave Rock and Roll to You," dedicated to longtime Zombie sideman Jim Rodford, who died after a fall in January--as well as a lengthy run through "She's Not There," the Zombies' excellent set ran roughly 80 minutes.

This was after a fine opening solo set by Don DiLego, who won over the crowd with engaging tunes, warm & humorous stage patter and a singalong version of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody."

And although my friend Dave and I were happy just to be in standing room for the sold-out show, a gracious City Winery host kindly moved us to a pair of open seats a few songs into the Zombies set.

Loving Odessey and Oracle as much as I do, I would've happily heard a few more than the four songs played from it--"Care of Cell 44," which Argent noted Dave Grohl had called the song that most inspired him, "This Will Be Our Year," the Argent-sung "I Want Her She Wants Me" and "Time of the Season"--but I really relished the way the newer songs proved there's still life in these Zombies.

Who stand as one of the best bands of the '60s, very much in the present tense.

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