OK, so I don't know much about The Zombies. Like, at all. For years, I thought their number one sizzling summer hit "Time of the Season" was actually Marvin Gaye. Give me a pass on that one, the English rock band were clearly trying to crimp his style far more than Robin Thicke. Not that that's a bad thing.
So I personally feel like you shouldn't review concerts unless you're passionately devoted to at least a small fraction of the artists' discography; otherwise you're wasting everyone's time. In this case, I only know a few of the Zombies greatest hits. Clearly, I am breaking my own rules here, but if you'll forgive me, I'll forgive myself too. There, that feels better.
For research purposes, I gave the Zombies' latest two albums, As Far As I Can See and Breathe Out, Breathe In, a listen. The best way I can say this without sounding like a total dick is, "It left a lot to be desired." And when I signed up to cover this show, I didn't quite realize only two of the five original members of the band, Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, would be present. It got worse the more I researched. I almost didn't show up at all.
See, Wikipedia tells me that The Zombies weren't very popular during their short stretch in the sixties. Their most iconic album Odessey and Oracle, [sic] sold poorly and the band broke up shortly afterwards. Later, in 1988, the Zombies name was hijacked due to a trademark lapse, several groups tried to pose as the original songwriters.
The (Real) Zombies made a few comebacks in 1991, 1997 and from 2001 to now. And it seemed to me that they're trying to cash in on a name that a few people might recognize. Yech. What a taste that leaves in my mouth.
Yet, these guys were playing at Crescent Ballroom, instead of some godforsaken casino in the middle of nowhere. If any band that I grew up on makes an appearance at a casino, please shoot me. Better yet, shoot the band.
I wasn't sure what to expect. Actually, I knew exactly what to expect, because I'd seen it all before from a hundred other bands trying to retool their past for an extra dollar. This show would be a bunch of lackluster singles that tried to recapture that powerful '60s energy (and would inevitably fail) while selling out to a bunch of old folks who were trying to rehash their faded dreams.
Oh, how wrong I was.
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When the band first took the stage and cut into "I Love You," every ounce of skepticism faded. In this intimate venue, I saw up-close-and-personal the jagged edges senility had dragged out on these five men: Colin Blunstone (lead vocals), Rod Argent (organ, vocals) Tom Toomey (guitar, vocals) Jim Rodford (bass, vocals) and Steve Rodford (drums.) To me, the way they dressed, stood and even smiled channeled press conferences I'd seen for The Rolling Stones or maybe even Led Zeppelin.
The difference? An aura of humility and genuine appreciation for their fans. Rather than charging two paychecks worth for tickets in the bleachers, these guys were offering you the chance to share an intimate experience with them for a pretty reasonable fare. The entire show seemed so modest, yet so gentle.
Colin and Rod looked especially radiant, and I found myself deeply wishing I could be this cool at their age. Lord knows that if I live to be half of 70, I doubt I'll have the energy or pizzazz that The Zombies demonstrated Monday night. I'll probably have trouble walking to the toilet, let alone singing for several hours per night on a cross-country road trip.
Rod emphasized again and again that they band wasn't out on the road to make a buck. He said they still loved being onstage and still felt liberated by the creative process of making music. I believed them for two reasons: the first, when they played newer songs like "Breathe Out, Breathe In" or "Show Me The Way," they had a lot more of that edge they were going for. I began to think their most recent albums just had the wrong producer. Live, they were a different story.
Still, those tunes won't ever have power like their late '60s classics. "Tell Her No" and "Care of Cell 44" (to further emphasize my blatant ignorance of The Zombies' greatness, I thought this song was "Carousel 44." I was really confused by this.) gave me the kind of jitters you can only feel from a song that's transcended nearly 50 years of time and space just to ripple through your ears.
"Time of the Season" had me in awe, feeling like I was witnessing some kind of revolution. That fucking Mellotron was tearing at me. "A Rose for Emily" and especially "She's Not There" broke my heart in strange places I didn't know existed and I almost cried. I kind of wish I had.
So in other words, fuck me. Please forgive my cynicism. This is a world where Bono takes a private jet to host charity concerts about world hunger or whatever and Miley Cyrus's weird tongue makes the news for weeks while people are gassed in Syria and the rest of the world prepares for nuclear war. When it comes to music, especially outfits with power and influence, I'm a little jaded and that's understandable.
But The Zombies are clearly different. They're the sort of, not quite indie rock outfit that never made it and came back around for round two, three, four and yet, it still doesn't seem like anything but an outstretched hand of good faith. In fact, I should be grateful that tours like this even still exist. While it hardly ever seems like a primary motivation, those arena rock bastards that reunite every decade or so to sell out a stadium often claim their doing it as exposure for newer generations.
The Zombies could have stayed home, licensed their tunes to a few Budweiser commercials and called it a night. Instead, they want to continually bring their message to ungrateful, pessimistic audiences like myself. And here they were doing it in a setting that felt carnal and hospitable. In fact, I almost deleted the few paragraphs I wrote beforehand, but decided that my grating honesty was important.
I've never been to a show where I've felt more humbled or surprised. And when they closed with their version of George Gershwin's "Summertime," a slow, melancholy waltz, it left me with a feeling that I had witnessed something incredible and kosher.
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Critic's Notebook Last Night: The Zombies at Crescent Ballroom The Crowd: Expecting to witness a sea of geriatric sentimentalists, imagine my surprise to be surrounded by the same old Crescent crowd that I've come to tolerate so well. God, you people have such esoteric taste it boggles the mind. Thank you. Personal Bias: Everything I know is wrong. Overheard: "It's like they gave Bilbo a bass..." C'mon, that's Jim Rodford!