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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Resurgent Zombies' 'Odessey' reprise

The Zombies "Odessey and Oracle" tour

Ten days before Saturday night's Zombies' Odessey and Oracle show at Town Hall, the band did a signing of their new book The "Odessey"—The Zombies in Words and Images at the Strand Book Store, at which Rod Argent recalled a recent get-together with contemporary Graham Nash.

"He said, 'Who would have thought that a band could be as excited and just as energized to be still singing the same songs 50 years later!'" said Argent, and Nash's sentiment was certainly borne out at Town Hall in a two-set concert centering on the band's 1968 album masterwork that spawned their immortal hit “Time of the Season,” but was released after the band broke up.

In fact, Odessey and Oracle was never played live until 2008, when it was performed in England, long after it had been acknowledged by the likes of Dave Grohl and Rolling Stone, as one of rock's all-time great discs. But the Zombies, who seem to be growing even larger in stature now with every passing year, finally toured with it a couple years ago, both with their current band (besides originals Argent on keyboards and vocals and vocalist Colin Blunstone, bassist Jim Rodford [formerly of Argent's post-original Zombies band Argent and the Kinks], Rodford's son Steve Rodford on drums and superb session guitarist Tom Toomey) and with the other surviving originals (bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy--guitarist Paul Atkinson having died in 2004).

At Town Hall, as at their 2015 New York Odessey and Oracle show at Ethical Culture Center, they were nothing short of magnificent, now 50 years after the year the album was recorded. They opened with the 1965 B-side “I Love You” (later a 1968 U.S. hit for People!), and "I Want You Back Again," originally a minor chart hit in 1965 but remade, after Tom Petty covered it on a live album a few years back, for their aptly-named most recent (2015) album Still Got That Hunger.

Highlights of the first set, performed by the current Zombies, also included the band's early hits "Tell Her No" and "She's Coming Home," and "Just Out of Reach," which was Blunstone's first composition and written for Otto Preminger's 1965 psychological thriller Bunny Lake is Missing. The band actually appeared in the film, which starred Laurence Olivier—or "Larry, as I liked to call him," said Blunstone.

At the Strand, Blunstone told of the producers' demand for three new original Zombies songs—so they participate in the music publishing royalties—and that Argent didn't have anything, while White, who shared the chief songwriting duties with Argent, had two half-finished tunes.

"So as a beginning songwriter, I saw my opening!" chortled Blunstone, who made the most of it with "the epitome of a '60s song" in "Just Out of Reach."

Back at Town Hall, Blunstone projected an almost supernatural presence, standing center stage and singing with the same kind of joy and precision of Tony Bennett. He departed the stage to let the spotlight shine on Argent's exhilarating extended solo on his Argent band's big hit "Hold Your Head Up," then returned to close the first half with the Zombies' signature first hit "She's Not There."

Both Zombies configurations came out after intermission for the Odessey performance, with Jim Rodford singing backup along with White's wife Viv Boucherat, who also designed the graphics that were screened overhead, which parallel her imagery in the new "Odessey" book. Steve Rodford also sang backup when not adding a second drum part to Grundy's lead.

Argent explained that to do Odessey justice, they needed a second keyboardist, and to this end, Brian Wilson collaborator Darian Sahanaja, who had assisted these original Zombies on keyboards and harmony vocals when they regrouped to first perform Odessey and Oracle in England and again when they brought it to the U.S., was back to refill the role.

The double-Zombies, then, played the entire Odessey epic straight through with interruption only for prolonged applause. But Argent had told a funny story at the Strand, "a story against me and Colin" about how when they first considered regrouping to perform the album, he and Blunstone were reluctant, White having not played bass in all that time--not to mention the band having never performed the album live.

"We thought we were the professionals," Argent said, only to discover that when the group finally did gather around the piano at his house to test out the material, he and Blunstone were the ones who were "all over the place," while White was right on. And so he was on Odessey's "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)," which he sang while Argent played a Victorian era pump organ resembling the one on the original recording.

Otherwise Blunstone did the vocal leads, closing out with the album's final track and surprise hit "Time of the Season," after which both Zombies bands reprised "She's Not There," Blunstone finishing with arms outstretched in jubilant triumph. And while the current Odessey and Oracle tour, which will travel to the U.K. and Europe after its U.S. run, will be the last, the third song on Side Two, "This Will Be Our Year," may well prove prophetic for the resurgent, immortal Zombies themselves.

"Time of the Season"



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