Monday, September 02, 2019

Concert review: Brian Wilson and The Zombies bring classics to Fantasy Springs Resort

"Something Great From '68" Tour
Who: Brian Wilson, The Zombies
Where: Fantasy Springs Resort in Indio, CA
When: Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019

Less than a week after catching The Rolling Stones thrill a packed State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ, I was able to catch a decidedly more intimate bill celebrating '60s-spawned rock courtesy of a promising bill featuring Brian Wilson and The Zombies at the Fantasy Springs Resort in Indio on Sept. 1.

The Zombies performing in Indio on Sept. 1, 2019.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Fresh off the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, England's Zombies have continued to enjoy a well-deserved resurgence because of a number of fortuitous factors including burgeoning interest in the band's 1968 masterwork Odessey and Oracle and a slew of high-profile performances showcasing the fully-intact talents of singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist-composer Rod Argent. In fact, prior to catching The Zombies in Indio on Sunday night, this writer last caught the band earn a standing ovation opening for Arcade Fire at the Greek Theater in Hollywood in September 2018.

The crowd at Fantasy Springs was rewarded with a special set that covered the band's stellar range of intoxicating material. Opening with the blues rock nugget "Roadrunner" (the Bo Diddley cover was the first song on the band's 1965 debut Begin Here), the Zombies covered plenty of sonic territory over 65 minutes. With a style that seamlessly blends rock, pop, jazz, classical and R&B, the Zombies (also featuring drummer Steve Rodford, guitarist Tom Toomey and bassist Søren Koch) showcased beloved classic material highlighted by a mini-set from Odessey and Oracle including an extended "Time of the Season." However, concertgoers seemed to really appreciate the group's newer tracks (including "Moving On" and "Edge of the Rainbow" off 2015's Still Got That Hunger); a definite highlight was when the Zombies debuted a newly-written song titled "Merry Go Round," a stellar and infectious rock track complete with some shining harmony vocals. Every time Blunstone's amazing tenor would fly or Argent would take off on a virtuoso keyboards solo, crowd members would cheer.

The Zombies' closed out their magical set with a terrific version of their first hit "She's Not There," which featured Argent and Toomey trading flashy solos before Koch and Rodford got into the act showcasing their artful chops too. 

Brian Wilson, lower left, joined by Al Jardine, lower right, in Indio.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Wilson's headlining performance was more complex for the audience  as well as yours truly  to process. Wilson, 77, had postponed a two-week tour in June 2019 focused on "Pet Sounds," noting his long-running bout with mental illness was behind the decision.

Brian Wilson behind the piano. Photo: Robert Kinsler
Watching Wilson wheeled on stage and positioned behind a piano (often motionless during parts of the 95-minute performance) was surprising and unsettling for many in the crowd, but the good news is that the celebrated singer-songwriter brought a terrific ensemble with him to recreate a parade of timeless classics from the 1960s and early '70s.

Al Jardine performing at Fantasy Springs Resort.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Chief among the contributors who brought the classics to life were his Beach Boys bandmates Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin. Jardine, 76, was particularly strong throughout the show with his excellent work on rhythm guitar and vocals adding to the effectiveness of the set. Indeed, Jardine conjured up magic when nailing the lead vocals on "Help Me, Rhonda," a 1965 hit that first showcased his vocals in the group. Chaplin's vocals and fiery guitar work was put in the spotlight during a rousing take on "Sail On Sailor."

A total of 29 songs were performed, with the biggest hits coming at the beginning of the set and later to close things out. In the middle of the set were 17 mostly-unknown gems pulled primarily from under-the-radar LPs Wild Honey (1967), Friends (1968) and Surf's Up (1971). Particularly stirring of these lesser-known songs was the melodic "Darlin' " (featuring fantastic vocals from keyboardist Darian Sahanajapsychedelic surf rocker "Meant For You," probing "Til I Die," and vocally-dense "Heroes and Villains."

The night ended on a high note with Wilson and company unleashing many of the Beach Boys' best known top hits including a faithful rendition of "Good Vibrations," the aforementioned "Help Me, Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' U.S.A.," and night-ending "Fun, Fun, Fun."

Review by Robert Kinsler

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