Ushering in a busy rock 'n' roll weekend, the Zombies reminded me and a near-capacity Largo Cultural Center that great tunes are, indeed, timeless.[Text by Julie, photos by Daniel.]
No revelation to be sure, but having attended both the Zombies 50th Anniversary Tour concert and the Anitwarpt III festival in a 24-hour time frame (review forthcoming), the all-too-truism packs a much mightier punch when viewed from both sides of the timeline.
The touring lineup includes founding members Colin Blunstone, lead vocals and Rod Argent, organ and vocals, with Tom Toomey, guitar and backup vocals; Jim Rodford, bass and backup vocals, and Steve Rodford, drums. Their performance at Largo Cultural Center was the first show of the band’s U.S. tour, peppered with a few tunes from their 2011 release Breathe Out, Breathe In with only a slightly noticeable reduction in audience response.
Though the Zombies hit their zenith playing to a generation before my own, I grew up hearing their hits on the radio. Even as a kid I picked up on something different, something sweeter and more palatable than the severe prog and Southern white-man overbite chomping down on my tender eardrums (thank you, older brothers). Colin Blunstone’s genteel but powerful vocal delivery sounded like a lullaby from a dreamy admirer.
The same was true Friday night: The seminal, if somewhat under-appreciated British Invasion band hit the stage with confidence and impressively solid musicianship (despite a few sound-level quirks at the beginning; it happens). From opener “I Want You Back Again” to the resonant “Summertime” finale, Blunstone offered the same grace and power of his youth.
The band stripped down to guitar, vocal and Hammond piano for the remake of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess classic, with fierce-to-whisper-soft delivery that had the audience pin-drop silent.
Tunes from their career-defining 1968 album Odessey and the Oracle included “Care of Cell 44,” “This Will Be Our Year,” “A Rose for Emily” and “Beechwood Park”. All were spirited and verklempt-inducing with touching harmonies. A little less so was the remake of Blunstone’s Motown hit “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” recorded with the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart in 1980. Their early single "I Want Her, She Wants Me" offered a jaunty crowd-pleaser.
Of course, they played the big hits, “Tell Her No,” “She’s Not There” and the all-purpose psychedelic-flashback jingle, “Time of the Season.” Argent’s masterful organ and the Rodfords’ rhythmic backbone brought the proceedings up way above the level of old fogies on reunion tour; belied by a modest stage setup and the earnest demeanor of its head Zombies.
Co-founder Argent, the nuts and bolts (and nut sack) of the band, straddled the stage in amusing contrast to the effete Blunstone. Argent wore tight jeans, a black t-shirt and long hair, sporting loads of swagger. Meanwhile Blunstone, decked out in a charcoal suit, black V-neck, and no tie, seemed primped for a nightlife jaunt with David Bowie and Bryan Ferry.
Both Blunstone and Argent took turns chatting with the audience at first. Blunstone joked about the inability to Google his band’s name and how you may wind up with something more “appalling” if you don’t search it correctly.
Argent seemed to swell with pride and nostalgia. He took over sharing anecdotes during the second half of the show, relating recent nods from established rockers. He mentioned Dave Grohl citing Odessey as a major influence and that “Care of Cell 44” was a tune that changed his life. He also name-checked Brian Wilson, referencing a comment from one of his management reps, who gave kudos to the band’s recently released album and said it was in heavy rotation on Wilson’s tour bus; at which point, Blunstone’s face seemed to scrunch in a painful cringe.
Each founding member got to lead in a solo hit — Argent’s thumping 8-track anthem “Hold Your Head Up” and Blunstone’s ballad as a guest member of Alan Parson’s Project, “Old and Wise,” from Eye in the Sky.
The jaded part of me looks at the tour as a way for its founders to bank on nostalgia and belated prestige, pinning the whole schmear to a milestone — but then again, why not?
In all actuality, Blunstone and Argent appeared to share a mutual respect and amicable rapport onstage, so most likely there’s a healthy mix of opportunity and sincere motivation — and the occasional ego clash.
However you size it up, the Largo show was a triumphant tour debut.
I was at the show and loved it. Great insightful review
As usual, great review, very well written.
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