Monday, May 01, 2017

The Zombies celebrate 'Odessey & Oracle' at The Theatre at Ace Hotel

The Zombies 2017 touring lineup as seen on April 28 includes (from left) keyboardist-singer Rod Argent, drummer Hugh Grundy, bassist-singer Chris White, drummer Steve Rodford, singer Colin Blunstone, singer Vivienne M. Boucherat, singer-bassist Jim Rodford and guitarist Tom Toomey.
Every time I catch The Zombies in concert, I come away even more firmly convinced the British band is one of rock music's greatest treasures.

On Saturday, April 29, The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle 50th Anniversary Finale Tour came to The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles for a high profile stop that displayed yet again the power of The Zombies as singers, songwriters and musicians able to convey the power of their groundbreaking sound and sterling songs in a live setting. This marked my fifth time being captivated by The Zombies since I first caught them at The Coach House on October 2, 2011, and I continue to be blown away by the group's concerts. 

This was a particularly moving event, with all four surviving members of the original group (lead singer Colin Blunstone, keyboardist-singer Rod Argent, bassist-singer Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy) on hand to perform Odessey and Oracle in celebration of the beloved album's 50th anniversary. Those four legendary artists (sadly, original guitarist Paul Atkinson died in April 2004) have previously announced this will be the final tour featuring the surviving members of the group performing Odessey and Oracle
From left, keyboardist Rod Argent, bassist Jim Rodford, guitarist
Tom Toomey and drummer Steve Rodford. Photo: Robert Kinsler

The concert was broken into two parts, with things kicking off with Blunstone and Argent joined by bassist-backing vocalist Jim Rodford (a long-time member of The Kinks and founding member of Argent), drummer Steve Rodford and lead guitarist Tom Toomey for a tour of the group's songbook outside of Odessey and Oracle. Opening with "I Love You," the crowd cheered when Blunstone's tenor soared to the same high mark that helped define the band's sound when the track was first recorded in 1965. The next song, "I Want You Back Again," was a single the band also recorded in 1965 - and as Argent recalled in his introduction - was promptly ignored at the time. However, it ultimately benefited from renewed interest thanks to Tom Petty being a huge fan of The Zombies and frequently covering that song at select concerts. The Zombies' version of the song played in Los Angeles was jazzy with Argent performing a virtuoso keyboard solo that was pure magic. 

While many bands forged in the early 1960s would have simply followed the nostalgia route and stick with playing older material, The Zombies moved against the grain by moving forward 50 years to feature several songs from their outstanding 2015 release Still Got That Hunger. "Edge of the Rainbow" was a song that combined a magical brew of harmonies-rich rock and jazz that is the troupe's own; Argent and Toomey traded solos - all the more special because Argent's jazzy stylings and Toomey's rock-flavored work flowed so wonderfully together. "Edge of the Rainbow" transported the group into blues territory, Blunstone's amazing voice thrilling the crowd.

The first half of the concert flew by, with The Zombies going on to perform rousing and flawless versions of their own 1965 breakout hit "Tell Her No," a joyful R&B version of Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold On Me" complete with buoyant harmonies, and a fiery take on Bo Diddley's "Road Runner" where Toomey cut loose with some of his most flashy lead guitar work of the night. The tuneful "Just Out of Reach" and baroque rocker "Chasing the Past" provided other highlights during that first half. That set ended with an extended and rousing take of the 1972 Argent hit "Hold Your Head Up," followed by a propulsive take on the timeless rocker "She's Not There" and tender version of "The Way I Feel Inside" with Blunstone and Argent sharing the stage together sans the rest of the group. 

Chris White performing on April 29, 2017.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
After a short intermission, the entire cast of musicians joined forces to deliver a potent and enchanted performance of Odessey & Oracle, the band's masterwork recorded during a three-month period from June to August 1967 and subsequently released in April 1968. Opening with the melodic chamber pop of "Care of Cell 44," that and every song that followed was performed with precision and depth. Blunstone's voice remains an obvious wonder, but songs featuring Argent and White on lead vocals were equally breathtaking, with those performances supported by masterful musicianship, shimmering harmonies and an obvious love and profound connection with the adoring audience.

Every Zombies fan and lover of Odessey & Oracle likely had favorite moments during Saturday's fast-moving performance. I consider myself blessed that I believe that every moment on the album indispensable; I will admit to having been swept away during "Beechwood Park" (love those a Capella harmonies at the end), the tender piano pop ballad "Brief Candles" with Argent, Blunstone and White taking turns with lead vocals, the wistful "Hung Up on a Dream" and unsettling Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)." The disc's final epic offering, the psychedelia rock epic "Time of the Season," was performed with dreamlike grace.

The night didn't come to an end until the full ensemble performed an extended take on "She's Not There," this longer version providing room for Argent and Toomey, as well as both drummers to delve into their playbooks for some inspiring solos. 

The Zombies setlist at The Theatre at Ace Hotel
1. I Love You
2. I Want You Back Again
3. Moving On
4. Edge of the Rainbow
5. Tell Her No
6. You've Really Got a Hold On Me (Smokey Robinson cover)
7. Road Runner (Bo Diddley)
8. Just Out of Reach
9. Chasing the Past
10. Hold Your Head Up (Argent track)
11. She's Not There
12. The Way I Feel Inside

Odessey & Oracle / Encore
13. Care of Cell 44
14. A Rose For Emily
15. Maybe After He's Gone
16. Beechwood Park
17. Brief Candles
18. Hung Up on a Dream
19. Changes
20. I Want Her, She Wants Me
21. This Will Be Our Year
22. Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)
23. Friends of Mine
24. Time of the Season
25. She's Not There (alternative, extended version)

Review and photos by Robert Kinsler

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