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.
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.
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.