Concert Reviews

The Zombies' New Tour Was Worth the Fifty-Year Wait

The Zombies are hardly new to music, but there was still a freshness and purity about how both versions of the band approached playing last night in Denver. There was a self-effacing graciousness with which they conducted themselves on stage, as though their remarkable music had yet to win over an audience, as though the band's music hasn't already influenced generations of other musicians. You couldn't help but be charmed by that aspect of the performance.

The first set was fourteen songs, largely comprising selections of the latest Zombies album, 2015's Still Got That Hunger, with several early tracks like the opener, “I Love You,” a 1965 B-side of “Whenever You're Ready,” “Tell Her No,” and, of course “She's Not There.” You could feel the urgency in Rod Argent's keyboard work, and the three- and even four-part harmonies between vocalists had a subtle power that didn't hit you over the head. As a nod to the bands the Zombies influenced, however, Argent told us the version of “I Want You Back Again” would be the version made famous by Tom Petty rather than the original arrangement.

There were a few surprises, such as an Argent song that Rod Argent and Chris White wrote together and recorded, the 1972 hit “Hold Your Head Up.” If there had been any restraint in place for earlier in the show, the band let its collective guard down for that song and set closer “She's Not There.”

Had the show been just the first half, it would have been a fine concert. But the reason this concert was so significant was that it was the first time the original bandmembers were able to play from the classic 1968 album Odessey and Oracle, a record that was released four months after the Zombies split in December 1967. Two years later “Time of the Season” became a hit, and the various members got on with other musical pursuits, never really getting to play the album live.

Argent told us before the intermission that the band would play Odessey and Oracle in its entirety, every single note. And he kept his word. With extra singers and other musicians, including Brian Wilson keyboard player Darian Sahanaja and Chris White's wife, Vivienne Boucherat, on backup vocals — the other places taken up by the “new” lineup of the Zombies — the expanded lineup breathed life into songs that should be part of the classic-rock canon. Still, each song felt like it could have come out recently and found an audience. The songwriting, and the Zombies in general, seem to have aged well.

Colin Blunstone's soulful vocals synched up perfectly with the vocal resonances of Argent, White and the other voices on stage. When Chris White got the spotlight for the great anti-war song “Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914),” it was striking. The song has long been one of the group's strangest numbers, as it included musique concrète as part of the recording, but the Zombies have a gift for taking the strange and making it accessible, the way that some of the best pop bands often do.

Seeing how the Odessey and Oracle songs fit so effortlessly together while incorporating such a wide range of styles really highlighted how the LP could be a vehicle for a bigger artistic statement than a mere single. That the band could write and record such an album and then revisit the material nearly a half-century later is impressive enough. But that those musicians could imbue the performance with such joy and with such a love for their craft at over seventy years old, musical chops intact, was inspirational.

For the final song of the night, they performed what Argent called a reprise of “She's Not There,” but with the expanded lineup, making for a particularly memorable ending to an impressive concert. 

Critic’s Notebook

Bias: The Zombies are a band that I grew up hearing but which I have come to appreciate greatly well into adulthood as purveyors of a fusion of classical structure and unabashed pop songcraft.

Random Detail: Ran into Michael Thompson of the band Silverface at the show.

By the Way: There were signed copies of the Odessey and Oracle LP and the Still Got That Hunger CD for sale at the show along with some colorful T-shirts, one just a "The Zombies" band grey T, a white shirt with lyrics and a black tour-specific shirt. Argent told us the band had spent about an hour signing stuff before the show, which is pretty respectably hands-on for a legendary band whose members are past the usual retirement age.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.