Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, April 28, 2007
      ( 4/28/2007 11:37:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"THIS WILL BE OUR YEAR; TOOK A LONG TIME TO COME" – Although the "of" is pretty small on the two-disc CD cover, at least they put it in there. Instead of claiming that their concert CD or DVD is a "Zombies album," much as the wholly forgettable faux-reunion disc As Far As I Can See attempted, Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent bill themselves as "of the Zombies" on the new Live at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London (Rhino). Sure, the Zombies trade name gets the bigger, brighter lettering, but this is as close to truth-in-packaging as you get in rock 'n' roll. And, besides, Colin & Rod were essential parts of the beloved sixties group – unlike, say, the 80's reunion of the Guess Who that only contained the band's original bass-player – even if the rest of the group isn't. In place of bassist/songwriter Chris White, you've got Argent's former bass-player (Jim Rodford, also with the Kinks during their Low Budget era) and that bass player's son (Steve) on drums; former guitarist Paul Atkinson died several years ago, so in his spot is another young muso Keith Airey.

In any event, the current configuration sounds like the Zombies, thankfully, and a large part of the credit there resides with vocalist Blunstone, who was primary voice on all of the band's big hits. Though the guy definitely looks (as the DVD reveals) the worst for wear, he sounds as good as ever: pretty amazing when you consider that his instrument is so boyishly poppy, usually one of the hardest sounds to sustain over the years. Soon as he launches into the yearningly optimistic "This Will Be Our Year," a track from the band's classic Odessey And Oracle and the second song on both CD and DVD, the audience lets its breath out, secure in the knowledge that our man can still sing 'em like he useta.

For lovers of the Zombies' O&O, this concert set is a particular pleasure, since it's the first time that either Blunstone or Argent have played that material in public – the original group disbanded not long after that elpee's original release. The DVD gives us four tracks from that album – "Year," "A Rose for Emily," "Beechwood Park" and, of course, the album's hit single "Time of the Season" – while the two-disc CD set adds album opener "Care of Cell 44" (recently done by Matthew Sweet & Susannah Hoffs on their 60's cover disc) to the mix. Of the five songs, only "Season" comes across as appreciably lesser-than in its concert version, largely due to the band's decision to lightly speed up the tempo at the expense of the song's loping sinuousness. The poignant "Emily" is done with just Colin and a counter-singing Rod on piano, and the effect is just lovely.

Blunstone & Argent take from more than just the Zombies' sixties catalog, though in general those are the tracks which provide the most immediate pleasure. Two Argent cuts, which were big hits for other bands – "Hold Your Head Up" (Uriah Heap) and "God Gave Rock 'N' Roll to You" (Kiss) – also get their big concert moments, however. The latter, in fact, is the finale to the DVD concert, though the CD set concludes with a much more Zombies-like cover of "Summertime." Neither of Argent's bloated seventies AOR staples holds up as well as the sixties material to my ears. From the way that Blunstone stiffly stands onstage, you know he knows he's not an arena rock singer; it's not what we come to an "of the Zombies" concert to hear. Some of Blunstone & Argent's solo material (like Blunstone's "Misty Roses" on the concert CD) fares a smidge better, but "I Want to Fly" from As Far As I Can See pretty quickly establishes why that particular release quickly vanished without a trace.

It's the Zombies stuff that lifts the concert every time it threatens to sag: "Indication," "Tell Her No," "She's Not There" and (on CD) "Just Out of Reach" from the sixties thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing are all particularly fine, though I could've done without Argent's obligatory organ solo and not-so-obligatory scatting on "Indication." I know: it's a live performance and musicians are expected to stretch and all that rubbish, but one of the things that made the original "She's Not There" so great, for instance, was the way it gave Argent enough time to do his keyb jazz thing fluidly and economically without ever compromising the song's pop compactness.

Still, I'd recommend this DVD to anyone with an abiding appreciation for the Zombies's music (or, to a lesser extent, for Argent): in general, it delivers a strong concert performance that's superior to the majority of reunion shows out there. Hard-core old-timers probably already have the two-disc set, of course, and for their diligence've been rewarded with a sterling cover of "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" (Colin Blunstone, Soul Man!) amid the other tracks not included on the video. Just one of those small bonuses that make being a fan such a treat.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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