LIVE ON THEIR FEET: THE ZOMBIES TAKE OVER THE WILBUR

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Family Affair: Among those who graced the Wilbur stage were a husband and wife on bass and backing vocals and a father-and-son rhythm section

With an old album to celebrate and a new one to promote, there is no stopping The Zombies.

No one with the slightest inclination to read a review of a Zombies concert needs to be told that the band’s 1968 release Odessey & Oracle is one of the top-tier nobody-heard-it-at-the-time-but-now-only-the-most-wretched-among-those-who-have-heard-it-don’t-like-it albums. Therefore, it was only a matter of time until the band decided to perform it on tour in its entirety.

Although The Zombies were a bit late to this particular party, no one at The Wilbur on Tuesday night was complaining. It turned out, moreover, that they probably had a good reason for having not having done so until this year. As keyboardist and founding member Rod Argent (click for my interview with him) explained toward the end of the show, the current tour would not have happened if any given performer on the stage that night had been unable to take part. This seemed only fair, as bassist Chris White—who, Argent noted, had not been on stage with the band since 1966—wrote seven of the 12 songs on Odessey & Oracle, credit for the release of which should go largely to Columbia Records A&R man and longtime Somerville resident Al Kooper.

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Despite having an ample back catalog that could attract a decent-sized audience any time they wanted to tour, Argent and fellow founder/vocalist Colin Blunstone are clearly committed to having new material to perform. Their 2013 U.S. tour (click for my review of their July 2013 show in Arlington, MA), their most extensive stateside trek in many years, served as a somewhat belated opportunity to promote the 2011 album Breathe Out, Breathe In.

This time around, the band was out to not only show off their 47-year-old masterpiece, but to foster interest what was on Tuesday night the not yet officially released Still Got That Hunger.

The attention paid to the new material was far from perfunctory. Six of the 13 songs that made up the evening’s first set were from Still Got That Hunger. Although “I Want You Back Again” is a rerecording of a song from the pre-Odessey & Oracle days, the lyrics to “Moving On” (“What doesn’t kill me will fill me with life”) and “Chasing the Past” (“I will take tomorrow and give it hell”) made it unmistakably evident that these guys who would otherwise qualify as old age pensioners are living in the present and look forward to a fruitful future. (“Maybe Tomorrow,” another new song, includes a quoted Beatles lyric that, according to Argent, Sony Publishing insisted they remove but Paul McCartney personally approved.)

Of course, a band with as much history as The Zombies certainly has every right to fondly reflect up on its past. However, they did so somewhat mawkishly—but also somewhat touchingly—on the new song “New York,” in which Argent recalls the band’s first trip to the United States in December 1964, the highlight of which was a Christmas Day visit to Brooklyn’s Fox Theatre, where Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles “simply took [his] breath away.”

Other celebratory nods to times gone by included “Caroline Goodbye” from Blunstone’s 1971 solo debut, “Hold Your Head Up,” the 1972 number by Rod’s classic rock band Argent, and the timeless Zombies singles “Tell Her No” (which came off as an interesting Beach Boys-yacht rock mixture) and “She’s Not There.”

When the band reconvened after an intermission, it was with drummer Hugh Grundy, who was a member of the 1961-1967 Zombies line-up, and bassist Chris White, who came aboard in 1962. (Original guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004.) Also lending his talents was Darian Sahanaja, who has been a permanent fixture of Brian Wilson’s backing band since 1999.

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Members of the Odessey & Oracle line-up (L-R): Rod Argent, Chris White, Hugh Grundy, Colin Blunstone

Together, they presented Odessey & Oracle—which made up the whole of the second set—without any of the fanfare or embellishment that would have been superfluous for an album of such innate splendor. Instead, the band simply played each song back-to-back, with each member reprising his respective vocal roles, so as to not dilute the cumulative impact. Particularly striking was the physically imposing Chris White’s execution of the evocative “The Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914).” Alone at the mic with Argent by his side on the organ, White masterfully captured the terror felt by a young man trapped in the throes of World War I.

With their voices and chops still in prime shape, their enthusiasm clearly undiminished, and a new album that dropped three days after this show, The Zombies are somehow—after more than 50 years—still in it for the long haul.

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NEW ORLEANS SUSPECTS FEAT. MEMBERS OF LITTLE FEAT (LARCOM THEATRE, 4/11/15)

(Originally published in the Beverly Citizen on April 23, 2015.)

As prodigious session musicians, Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett probably have closer to 1,000 than 100 credits between them. To the extent that either is particularly well known, however, it is as members of the influential and enduring rock band Little Feat, whom Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page called his favorite American group in a 1975 Rolling Stone interview.

Barrere joined the band after the 1972 release of Sailin’ Shoes and first appeared on 1973’s Dixie Chicken, which was one of several albums on which Tackett played without being an actual member. He officially joined Little Feat for the 1988 reunion album Let It Roll.

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Little Feat’s early 1970s line-up.

While the résumés of Barrere and Tackett include some of the most noteworthy and popular artists of the past five decades, members of New Orleans Suspects can boast of having contributed to the indelible sounds of a handful of the Crescent City’s greatest music legends, including The Neville Brothers (drummer “Mean” Willie Green), the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (guitarist Jake Eckert), and The Radiators (bassist Reggie Scanlan), not to mention Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and Professor Longhair.

Saxophonist Jeff Watkins cannot claim such Nola pedigree, but having spent a dozen years as the leader of James Brown’s band more than makes up for that. CR Gruver, meanwhile, is merely an extremely talented classically trained piano player who has the sound of The Big Easy down pat.

An occasion on which these two musical powers ended up in the same place would seem to be an instance of the proverbial meeting of an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

Well, this occasion happened on Saturday night, when Barrere, Tackett, and New Orleans Suspects converged on The Larcom Theatre.

The crowd was age-appropriate considering that the main selling point was the presence of members of a band whose first record came out in 1970. A few early arrivers reminisced of having seen Little Feat with founder Lowell George, who died in 1979 and who would have turned 70 this past Monday.

A woman wearing a T-shirt of the English band Blur’s 22-year old album Modern Life Is Rubbish may have qualified as representative of the younger contingent.

Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett took the stage together shortly after 8 p.m. with only a couple of Stratocaster guitars and a mandolin in tow.

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Paul Barrere (left) and Fred Tackett

Their hour-long opening set consisted primarily of Little Feat songs that one or the other composed, including “Down On the Farm,” “All That You Dream,” “Clownin’,” and “Church Falling Down,” which Tackett wrote, sang, and played mandolin on.

They did not neglect Lowell George’s classics, however, tossing in “Sailin’ Shoes” – which Barrere said was his favorite Little Feat song – and “Willin’” back-to-back in the middle of the set.

Before closing with Barrere’s “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” they sang a bit of “Don’t Bogart Me” (aka, “Don’t Bogart That Joint”), which is best-known for its appearance in the 1969 film Easy Rider, and a medley of The Band’s “Long Black Veil” and “The Weight.”

After a 20-minute intermission, it was time for New Orleans Suspects. The quintet immediately shifted into high gear for the lengthy instrumental “Blackbird Special.” Most of the group’s songs included at least two solos, be they guitar and sax, keyboards and sax, or drums and guitar. (I do not seem to remember one by the modest but busy-fingered bassist.)

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New Orleans Suspects

Each member received applause for his demonstrations of musical prowess before the songs were over. After the New Orleans Suspects captivated the Larcom crowd for almost an hour, Barrere and Tackett joined them for a 45-minute set of Little Feat numbers such as Barrere’s “Old Folks Boogie,” the Tackett-George composition “Honest Man,” and George’s “Fat Man In the Bathtub,” into which New Orleans Suspects expertly inserted a portion of Dr. John’s immortal “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” as the stage was bathed in the glow of red light.

The second set – during which focusing on any given performer would have provided an entire evening’s worth of entertainment – closed with the obligatory “Dixie Chicken,” after which all seven musicians returned for a two-song encore that showcased Fred Tackett’s trumpet-playing talents.

Overall, the performance was a labor of love for all of the players and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the audience. Those who infrequently attend live concerts will find nourishment enough in this one to hold them over until at least their next outing.