The Zombies at Celebrity Theatre, 9/30/11

The Zombies Celebrity Theatre Friday, September 30, 2011

50 years is a long time. There's no getting around it -- The Zombies, lead by original members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, have been at it for a five decades; much longer than the original run of The Zombies, from 1961 to 1968, would ever have suggested.

Fittingly, last night's performance at Celebrity Theatre didn't focus solely on Zombies material, also drawing songs from Argent, the proggy rock band formed in the wake of The Zombies demise. The band also performed the soul standard "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted," a song Blunstone released as a single with Dave Stewart in 1981.

Much of the night was spent discussing the long history of the band (too much of the night, maybe) but all the things you worry about a band losing -- vocals, chops, passion -- were on full display.

Blunstone's voice was in excellent shape, and he wasted no time showing it off. The band opened with "I Love You," the band's 1965 single. Blunstone didn't just hit the notes, he sang each line with reserve and intensity. Argent was in good form, too, cranking out the organ solo with theatrical effort.

The band dipped into its most recent effort, Breathe Out, Breathe In with energy. The title track found the band exploring the AOR textures of the song in a manner nearly identical to the recorded version. That's saying something -- the song's layers of melodic bass and vocal harmonies have a lot in common with Steely Dan, as sound that isn't easy to pull of in a live setting.

Blunstone and Argent repeatedly shared stories from the band's long career, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Each time one of the bandmates would whisper a year, like 1968, when the band's masterpiece Odessey and Oracle was released, the crowd would "ooh" and "ahh," collectively the kind of group that remembered 1967. There weren't a lot of youngsters in the house, but it was fun to watch everyone cut loose. (Some of the dancing was...interesting?)

The defining moment came when the band performed five songs from Odessey and Oracle. Hearing "A Rose For Emily" gave me the chills. Performed with just a piano and the vocals of Argent, Blunstone, and bassist Jim Rodford, the song nearly matched the hymnal quality of the song's recorded version. "Care of Cell 44" followed, with the band expertly pulling of the psych-pop rhythms of the song.

The band's take on "Time of the Season," obviously an anticipated one for the crowd, veered toward the giant rock sound of Argent's '70s era. The song is a model of restraint on record, with quiet "ahhs" and terse bass, but live, the whole thing became bombastic and thundering. It wasn't for me, but I was certainly in the minority. The crowd cheered, rising to their feet in applause.

In many ways, the song set the tone for the rest of the set, which was considerably amped up. The band gave a choice readings of "Tell Her No" and "She's Not There," but was far more energetic and showy on Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" and "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll To You." On the latter, it seemed like Argent was apologetic about the KISS version of the song, but that band's version is great, so I don't quite see what the fuss was about. Argent's keyboard antics were in full force, as he slammed the keys, replicating the Hammond sound with his Hammond-brand keyboard.

Closing with Gershwin's "Summertime," the band returned to a restrained, tasteful tone. I was happy, and it gave the cheering crowd a moment to sit down and catch their breath before shuffling out of Celebrity. 50 years is indeed a long time, but The Zombies aren't phoning their anniversary shows in. If anything, they rocked me too hard.

One of the youngest people in attendance wanted the band to turn down? What a weird world.


"I Love You" "Can't Nobody Love You" "Breathe Out, Breathe In" "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" "Tell Me Where You Are" "Shine on Sunshine" "Any Other Way" "A Rose for Emily" "This Will Be Our Year" "I Want Her She Wants Me" "Time of the Season" "Play it for Real" "A Moment in Time" "Whenever You're Ready" "Tell Her No" "Hold Your Head Up" "She's Not There" "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You" "Summertime"

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: The Zombies at Celebrity Theatre

The Crowd: Oldies but goodies (I think I spotted Phoenix hero Sam Means there, too). A little sparse, too. There were maybe 300 people at the show.

Random Notebook Dump: "The Jam, Foo Fighters, Vaccines" -- all band's Argent mentioned as Zombies fans.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.