Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Zombies "Odessey And Oracle" Live 10/11/15

Pic courtesy of Joe Oshman
I have avoided "Zombies" gigs for the past decade or however long they've been dragging their "Zombies greatest hits/Blunstone solo/Argent's greatest hits" tired Casino/Cabaret act around because quite honestly it all sounded hokey (more on that in a bit) . When I first read that they would be performing their famous "Odessey (sic) And Oracle" LP in it's entirety and in it's original running order I was still skeptical. That changed when I read that remaining original members Chris White and High Grundy would be joining them for the gig (guitarist Paul Atkinson sadly having passed away in 2004) and took a chance on a ticket. My friend Joe and I duly set off to see them at the spacious Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA (after much lubrication of the British ale sort at Glenside's Union Jack's pub).

Much like Paul Weller gigs back in the 90's I ran into a host of people I knew from the past two or three decades and nearly all of them were apprehensive about the first set and hopeful about the second set of ""Odessey...".  I won't spend too much time bitterly slagging off the showbizzy first set.  They did 13 tunes, 6 of them were Zombies numbers with some nice surprises like "I Love You" , their opener (the whole set can be viewed here) and one of my faves, the jazzy "I Want You Back Again". It should have been amazing. Blunstone's voice pulled it off, Argent played his incredible electric piano but it was absolutely ruined by their guitarists using his 80's L.A. metal hair band effect on what should have been some jazzy arpeggios. In fact had they found someone not so interested in being Stevie Ray Vaughn they might have stood a chance.  Then came time to plug the new LP with long winded reminiscing by Blunstone (and Argent), I nipped off for a piss (which I waited in line for), came back then headed back out again to the bar for the two of the most expensive cans of Becks I'd ever had and they were still not finished the tales and their two tracks from the new album!!  Thankfully the trip down Argent lane only consisted of "Hold You Head Up" which thrilled a few sweatpants clad audience members (one of whom stood the entire time with his fists raised in the air, glad he was digging it, I wasn't). That went on even longer.  "Tell Her No" and then intermission time.

After 30 minutes they took the stage with Chris White looking much like my Uncle Ernie wearing one of my pinstripe jackets (and who, unlike his band mates, is immediately recognizable) complete with his trademark 60's racoon tail on his bass strap and Hugh Grundy, augmented by a young lady (who it transpires is Mrs. Chris White) joining the first set's bassist Jim Rodford on backing vocals, the previously annoying guitarist (who fortunately did not use his grungy little effects pedal) and a young man with gravity defying hair who I was told is Brian Wilson's band leader on keyboards and additional backing vocals. Before it was co-opted by every vinyl devouring hipster or slacker hack rock n' roll journo "Odessey And Oracle" was (and still is in an odd little way) a pretty special LP for me. Without sounding incredibly maudlin or a tad too personal hearing it live made me realize how much it impacted me throughout nearly all of my adult life. I heard it for the very first time from a woman in the apartment of this Johnny Fever DJ she was working for on Friday August 22, 1986. I know the date by heart as I had just buried my friend Scott "Rudie" Rosinski earlier that day. It was sort of the soundtrack to my first very intense relationship (strangely the woman seated in front of me was wearing the same perfume that said girlfriend wore making "Care Of Cell 44" a surreal experience) . In the Summer of 1987 a gang of young mods and 60's enthuiasts (myself included) trooped down to the "has been central " known as Club Bene in South Amboy, NJ to see "The Zombies". Luckily before most of us paid our admission fee we'd discovered they were a group of charlatans not much older than us (further evidenced by a friend who bought a ticket and said the set included such Zombies classics as "Nights In White Satin"). Not the first time the Zombies were rooked by impostors, but hopefully the last. The LP played on various psychedelic "journeys" (no trip complete without it) in the 80's and early 90's where the lysergic debate would ensue ever ytime: were the Zombies nice boys playing cod psychedelia or were they secretly acid eating heads? I once listened to the LP on a Walkman with a single white earpiece (pre-ear buds) running beneath my gas mask during a gas drill in the Army in 1990 which made "Butchers Tale Western Front 1914" even creepier. Though my wife and I did not have a "wedding song" it was mutually decided that it was for all intents and purposes "This Will Be Our Year"  would do the trick for us (and still does) and the first song lyrics that our daughter ever sang was from "A Rose For Emily" ("Emily can't you see") when she was not yet three to our cat Emily.

Portuguese E.P. 1968

With all that personal clobber and cobwebs out of the way to say it was a magical experience would be the gravest of understatements.  They took the stage with an announcement that there would be little dialogue in between songs and that they would just bang on (pity as I would not have minded some long winded intros about the album's creation etc) and proceeded into the majestic "Care Of Cell 44". They sounded as close to the original LP as possible, in no small part thanks to Rod's compact Mellotron (and his assisting younger hired help) and the extra backing vocalists made it work.  It was of course sheer magic to hear Messrs. Blunstone, White and Argent singing together spot on together and since there are more than just three part harmonies on the LP the extra vocal help made it like hearing the album.  It's hard to imagine the gig without Chris White.  His vocals and understated bass playing would have been sorely out of place. He got probably the longest standing ovation of all the members onstage and looked incredibly humbled and a tad misty eyed by the response.  The vocals on the acapella ending part of "Maybe After He's Gone" made the hairs on my arms stand on end while the piano/Mellotron mix on "Brief Candles" created an ethereal
dreamscape beneath their choral precision.  For me one of the highlights of the night was Chris White singing "Butcher's Tale Western Front 1914" on an empty stage with just Rod Argent playing an antique pump organ (see a snippet I filmed below)!

There were so many brilliant moments throughout the whole set that I couldn't possibly write about them all here but rest assured if this Zombies line up rolls through your town and you dig the LP the way I do you should do what you must to come up with the dough to check it out.  You shan't be disappointed.


The Swede said...

Definitely a game of two halves by the sound of it. Great review.

Harry Rag said...

Caught it Saturday night in Milwaukee. I concur with this review completely.