There was a time when the Zombies sounded like a band that would never age.
It was 1968, and the British pop band's psychedelic second album, Odessey and Oracle, captured the yearning and romance that had defined the Summer of Love the year before, when the Zombies had recorded it. Though the band had already broken up by the time the album was released, “Time of the Season” would become an unexpected hit and Odessey and Oracle a cult classic, spoken of alongside genre-defining '60s albums like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Last night, for the 50th anniversary of the album's recording, the four surviving members recreated Odessey and Oracle live at First Avenue.
Regarding the band's decision to tour, keyboardist Rod Argent said to the crowd, “We only wanted to do it if we could reproduce every single note of the original album.” And the Zombies' two defining traits -- Argent’s heavenly ascending keys and the soulful, angelic vocals of Colin Blunstone -- remain intact, still evoking the romanticism of the later British Invasion. I've never seen so many sexagenarians collectively lose their shit on the Mainroom dance floor than last night when the band played Argent's solo hit, “Hold Your Head Up,” and he launched into his extended solo.
To set a nostalgic mood, DJ Jake Rudh first projected footage of the Zombies’ ’60s psych contemporaries. Then the band played two sets: The first was a run-through of their hit singles and some songs from their 2015 album Still Got That Hunger; the second half was entirely devoted to Odessey and Oracle in sequential order.
The first set was as hit-or-miss as the Zombies' career itself. “Some of these songs go back to -- I’m embarrassed to say -- 1964,” Blunstone joked apologetically at the beginning of the set, and classics like “I Love You,” “Tell Her No,” “She’s Not There,” and “The Way I Feel Inside” could hardly disappoint. But with the newer material -- “I Want You Back Again,” “Moving On,” and “Edge of the Rainbow” -- the Zombies sounded like they were trying too hard to imitate themselves, missing the charm of what has made their older music endure. Really, who was there to watch the band drudge through new territory when they have an era’s worth of classics under their belt?
But the second set unfolded with almost effortless charm. Odessey and Oracle’s kaleidoscopic visions of love intermixed with Vietnam-era anxiety felt absolutely natural. Played in front of lively, animated storybook visuals, the album was almost like a scrapbook of memories.
Odessey and Oracle turns the dreariest of stories into sunny sing-a-longs. Album opener “Care of Cell 44,” a love song about awaiting a partner’s release from prison, immediately enraptured the crowd, as did the wedding-playlist staple “This Will Be Our Year.” Original bassist Chris White took the mic to sing the low-key, organ-backed war song “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914).” With Hugh Grundy on drums, this was as close to a true reunion as possible -- guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004 from liver and kidney disease, but his replacement, Tom Toomey, imitated his parts identically.
With the opening claps and breathy vocals that introduced “Time of the Season,” the crowd was lost again. The song has been hijacked by car commercials and overplayed by oldies radio, but its undeniable charm and groove remain, and every stroke of Argent’s glittery piano-playing was hypnotizing. During the second set, everything from their overlapping choirboy harmonies to Argent’s unique jazz piano sounded just as it should. The concert was a fitting showcase for a band that never got to bask in the spotlight they deserve.
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