The Zombies Come Alive at Birchmere

IMG_4221Half a century ago this summer, the Zombies were in Abbey Road studio, working on an album that would both break up the band and bring them back together decades later.

Fifty years later, they were winding up another U.S. tour whose center point was a group of songs from that album that only grew in stature over the year, Odyssey and Oracle.

In a show at the Birchmere in Alexandria Monday, the songs soared as lovely chamber pop concoctions — “Care of Cell 44,” “A Rose for Emily” and “This Will Be Our Year,” leading into their biggest hit, “Time of the Season.”

Oddly, it was that one that didn’t seem well executed — the handclap, drumbeat, breath that was the basis of its precise backbeat seemed shaky (perhaps because they left the handclap to the audience), the keyboard solo by Rod Argent want a little long and wandered a little far afield, the big choral singalong a bit wanting (again because of the audience).

Overall, the group known for its bad timing (they broke up before “Time of the Season” became a hit and wouldn’t reform to tour or otherwise capitalize on it) sounded extraordinarily great.

That’s because the vocals of lead singer Colin Blunstone, operatic and high ranging, seemed untouched by the passing years, perhaps because he’d been resting it so long. Argent’s voice wasn’t bad either, though he hid it most of the night, even on songs from his project following the Zombies, also called Argent.

There was more British rock royalty in this small unit: Bassist Jim Rodford, who had co-founded Argent, went on to play with the Kinks from 1978 until the band stopped touring in 1996. He also spent time in versions of the Animals and the Swinging Blue Jeans. He’s 76; Argent and Blunstone are 72. The two younger member band, drummer (and son) Steve Rodford and guitarist Tom Toomey — both seemed to have white hair in sympathy with their elder bandleaders.

The Zombies actually predated the Beatles, and their early hits “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” came amid a bunch of usual covers of American R&B which the band replicated on stage.

That included the medley of the Miracles “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” with Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me” as well as barroom staple “Sticks and Stones,” the pop “Goin’ Out of My Head” and the Bo Diddley “Road Runner.”

From the start, though, the Zombies distinguished themselves from other Merseybeat groups by combining unusual elements, from the jazzy keyboard playing of Argent to the unusual rhythm patterns of the drums, to create its singular sound.

In addition to their own hits to play, the group had some that became associated with others. So “I Love You,” which became a U.S. hit for the group People! (with exclamation mark) in 1968, opened the show. An early obscurity that Tom Petty picked up to play live, “I Want You Back Again,” held up as well. What was surprising was how well a trio of songs from their latest work, the 2015 Still Got That Hunger, worked in the show, sounding much more vibrant live.

And then there were the songs that the two leaders of the band went on to create later. For Blunstone’s part, he chose “I Don’t Believe in Miracles” and not, say, anything from Alan Parsons Project.

For Argent, not only did he have to play its biggest hit, “Hold Your Head Up,” they built the whole end of the concert around it, with arena style clap-alongs and extended keyboard solos. It became emblematic of all of the excesses of the 70s, far away from the succinct and punchy work from the 60s that was the heart of the Zombies.

That trend continued to the encore, a version of Argent’s “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” (later recorded by both Kiss and Petra) that was enough to make you forget the simple pleasures of “Tell Her No.”

 

The setlist for the Zombies Monday was:

  • “I Love You”
  • “Can’t Nobody Love You”
  • “I Want You Back Again”
  • “Going’ Out of My Head”
  • “Moving On”
  • “Edge of the Rainbow”
  • “I Don’t Believe in Miracles”
  • “Care of Cell 44″
  • “A Rose for Emily”
  • “This Will Be Our Year”
  • “Time of the Season”
  • “Sticks and Stones”
  • “Tell Her No”
  • “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” / “Bring It On Home”
  • “Road Runner”
  • “Chasing the Past”
  • “Hold Your Head Up”
  • “She’s Not There”
  • “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”

 

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