When the topic of life longevity among friends would arise in conversation I’d often say something like “I’ll be thrilled to make 70” and I genuinely meant it. Now that I am officially “over-the-hill” I have moments when 70 sounds far too soon and tonight was one such night, but the difference being that I was in the crowd watching The Zombies kick out the jams, now in their 70’s! My love of seniors and the elderly is genuine but this was something else, transcendent of age in many ways. Take for instance, the fiery fingers of a 72 year old Rod Argent that leapt nimbly atop the ivories just as they did in 1965. Perhaps even more impressive were the pipes on Colin Blunstone, also now 72 years young, whose voice sounded more like a 1967 Scott Walker than a 2017 Colin Blunstone. Perhaps the most impressive was the 76 year old Jim Rodford keeping the beat on the bass just as he had for years with The Kinks. It was an evening filled with history and melding of past and present that saw tracks like the forgotten 1965 single of “I Want You Back Again” getting attention once again due in large part to Tom Petty covering it live in recent years. Initially I had hoped to catch the original lineup performing Odessey and Oracle in it’s entirety but this lineup and set brought something equally engaging, in part for the band as well who expressed the importance of playing their newer songs live for self-fulfillment. Let’s be honest, haven’t they earned the right to play whatever the hell they want by now? It was all pretty impressive, old and new, originals and covers alike.
The set began where the band began all the way back in 1965 with “I Love You”. The song was written by original Zombies bassist Chris White as the B-side to the single “Whenever You’re Ready.” As the first time hearing any iteration of The Zombies live my ears were set ablaze with comparisons both sonically and visually as the men that stood in front of me were complete strangers I’d never seen on album covers or in magazines or god forbid, online, gulp! It was an all too familiar tune I’d hear hundreds of time while sitting in my office, but never live. This calibration continued as I snapped shot after shot of these “strangers” playing music I knew and loved. Next up was a cover of “Can’t Nobody Love You” by soul brother Solomon Burke that Blunstone and Argent began performing upon reuniting around the turn of the century. The final song that was performed while I was watching through my viewfinder was the aforementioned “I Want You Back Again”.
As I took my seat and set my attention on the 2017 Zombies I had time to reflect and critique. I had to be as honest as I could with myself because I knew I had to write this review. My first thought was that Colin Blunstone’s now heavily operatic vibrato vocal styling was a bit more dominant than on the original recordings. Initially it felt too pronounced, distracting even, but as the night grew on I became more accustomed to it and his voice felt a bit more natural. I was also missing the sound of Paul Atkinson’s iconic guitar playing but there’s little you can do to replace a member who has passed on. These minor details aside, The Zombies charged forth as I imagine they had in the mid and late 60’s in Britain and across Europe. Argent introduced the next few songs as a small set dedicated to their most notable and best selling album, Odessey and Oracle, jamming out on harpsichord heavy “Care of Cell 44”, lyrical “A Rose for Emily”, nostalgic “This Will Be Our Year”, and finally was (clap…ahh) “Time of the Season”. It felt nice, to have those songs performed in succession and to be honest left me want more from the album that had such a profound effect on my musical tastes as a 20 something living in New York City and trying to figure out where it all came from without always tracing the routes back to The Beatles, who I to this day don’t love (say and think what you will).
The set continued with a mix of covers and originals including Titus Turner’s “Sticks and Stones” as well as a solid rendition of Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner”. Mutual respect was paid by Blunstone and Argent to each other’s solo and non-Zombies careers with two Argent tunes being performed. Classic rock standard “Hold Your Head Up” was first and found the guys jamming it out for a good 10+ minutes. Also, the final song performed was the anthemic Argent cut “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” which sent old and young alike to the doors humming the tune in their heads. For me though, there was one track that just absolutely grabbed me and pulled me in, and that was Blundstone’s 1972 “I Don’t Believe In Miracles”. The song is in many ways a high wire act straddling painful cheesiness (as is evidence of the cover by 70’s Brit-pop group America) and Brian Wilson-esque genius complete with perfect piano and layered vocal harmonies indicative of the time. Somehow it just felt right in this space at this time, it was pretty fantastic. In the end, it was one of those evenings that made 70 look glorious and young at heart.