Two Sides of The Zombies Shine at Saban Theatre

by Robert Kinsler

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The 2015 version of the Zombies, from left, features keyboardist Rod Argent, bassist Jim Rodford, drummer Steve Rodford, singer Colin Blunstone and guitarist Tom Toomey.

Formed in early 1961, the Zombies remain one of the best and clearly most enduring artists of the British Invasion. So it comes as no surprise that the band is still conquering American audiences in 2015.

Led by singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent (who both turned 70 this past June), the Zombies performed for more than two hours at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, CA, on Oct. 24, the night divided into a first half where the modern-day lineup featured gems off the newly-released “Still Got That Hunger” as well as from across their 50+ year run, while the second half saw the complete original lineup (sans guitarist Paul Atkinson, who passed away in 2004) perform the 1968 masterwork “Odessey & Oracle” in its entirety.

Whether performing hits from the 1960s or contemporary favorites, the Zombies proved that their distinctive sound that blends rock, baroque pop, jazz, blues and psychedelic stylings is as intoxicating today as it was a half century ago.

Opening with “I Love You,” the characteristic sound of the Zombies shone as Blunstone sang gloriously and nailed the high notes, while Argent performed impressively on keyboards (with piano during the vocal sections, and then adding a virtuoso organ solo for good measure) on the 1965 classic. The next offering, a gospel-tinged reworking of the Solomon Burke cover “Can’t Nobody Love You,” further displayed a freewheeling but textured arrangement expertly woven where top-tier vocals and harmonies were mixed with splendid dynamics including a strong blues solo from guitarist Tom Toomey to finish it.

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Chris White, singer Vivienne Boucherat and Colin Blunstone

“We’re celebrating two albums tonight,” said BlunstoneĀ in remarks after the second song, adding the new album had just landed on the Billboard charts, the first Zombies disc since June 1969 to appear there. He then noted the night was also a celebration of “Odessey & Oracle,” the celebrated 1968 second studio album from the Zombies widely considered one of the best and most significant rock albums of all time. “This is a 48 and a half year celebration.”

With Tom Petty among those in the capacity audience, the Zombies revisited 1965’s “I Want You Back Again” with a reworked version that they acknowledged was inspired by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ late ’90s version of the early Rod Argent-written single. Here it was more powerful than the 1965 version, in part because of the extended jazz voicings and virtuoso keyboards from Argent.

What wasn’t to love in the first half? The new song “Moving On” (which is the opening salvo on “Still Got That Hunger”) proved to be as fiery live as it is on disc, with Toomey dazzling on guitar while the father-son rhythm section of bassist Jim Rodford and drummer Steve Rodford showcased their strong talents in bringing a modern-day rock edge to the Zombies’ sonic brew. The ambitious song involved melodic verses, convincing keyboard and lead guitar work, artful harmonies – all bolstered by the Zombies’ quickly-distinguishable sound. As far as fan favorites, the band’s faithful performance of the iconic 1964 hits “Tell Her No” and first half ending “She’s Not There” had many cheering and digging every note.

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Ron Argent

As for the second half of the concert, the lineup included Argent and Blunstone joined by original members Chris White (bass) and Hugh Grundy (percussion), with Toomey playing guitar, and Darian Sahanaja (of Brian Wilson’s band and the Wondermints fame) adding keyboards and singer Vivienne Boucherat adding backing vocals. One standout moment after another played out over the hour-long second half which marked the first-time ever complete performance of “Odessey & Oracle” by the Zombies in Southern California. The melancholy-drenched “Brief Candles” with the evocative keyboards and shared lead vocals from Argent, White and Blunstone moved right into the prog rock-meets-musical jewel “Hung Up on a Dream.”

The buoyant “I Want Her She Wants Me” featured Argent’s lead vocals with the rest of the ensemble adding a dazzling polyphonic array of voices as the song soared to a fantastic finale. After the Zombies performed a stirring “Time of the Season,” the last song on “Odessey & Oracle,” an encore version of “She’s Not There” included all of the night’s performers extending the classic with additional solos and firepower, including an impressive section where Grundy and Steve Rodford offered up theĀ ultimate one-two punch drum solo.

A long and heartfelt standing ovation marked a fitting end for a special event that will be long remembered by the capacity crowd that filled the Saban. And judging from the smiles on the musicians’ faces, the Zombies will long remember the evening too.

For more, visit www.thezombies.net

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