Review: The Zombies wind through a deep songbook at the Largo Cultural Center in Largo
In terms of popularity, the Zombies were in the British Invasion’s second division, denied the mass adulation and run of hits enjoyed by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (or Herman’s Hermits and the Dave Clark Five, for that matter).
In terms of talent, musicianship and songwriting skills, the Zombies were in a class of their own.
Those qualities were on display Friday night when original Zombies Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone led the band’s current lineup through a well-received set at the Largo Cultural Center.
Opening number I Want You Back Again illustrated what was great about the Zombies as well as what set them apart.
The song swung more than rocked, with drummer Steve Rodford practically insinuating the beat. Argent’s jazzy piano solo further made the case for the Zombies as the most sophisticated of the mid-‘60s British Invaders.
Minor-key beauty I Love You showed that Blunstone’s unmistakable voice has lost little of its early luster.
Songs from the band’s latest album, 2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In, featured in the early part of the set and – hooray! – did not suffer terribly in comparison to the Zombies’ 1960s favorites. The album’s title track was a standout, upping the energy level and capped with some wonderful harmonies from Argent and Blunstone.
Argent gave a lengthy introduction to a selection of tunes from the band’s masterpiece, 1968’s Odessey and Oracle (spelling courtesy of the sleeve designer), explaining the album’s initial commercial failure and eventual recognition.
The Odessey set started minus drummer Rockford and guitarist Tom Toomey. Accompanied only by Argent’s piano, A Rose for Emily was a showcase for the lead vocals of both Argent and Blunstone, with bassist Jim Rodford (Argent’s cousin and drummer Steve’s father) adding harmonies.
The album’s opening track, Care of Cell 44 was next and nothing short of glorious, with Toomey joining Argent, Blunstone and the elder Rodford on exquisite harmonies.
Argent acknowledged original Zombies bassist Chris White, the band’s other primary songwriter, before performing White’s wonderful This Will Be Our Year and Beechwood Park.
Time of the Season, the closing track on Odessey and Oracle and a fluke hit for the band a year after they split up, was next, with Argent taking an excellent, extended solo.
Blunstone sang Old and Wise, as he did on the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky. Following it was classic rock staple Hold Your Head Up, by Argent’s eponymous post-Zombies outfit. Both got a fine reception from the close-to capacity crowd, particularly the latter tune, the only hard rock of the night. Both, though, sounded a touch out of place aside the subtle sophistication of the Zombies’ best material.
First hit She’s Not There preceded goodnights. The group offered a two-song encore: an urgent Just Out of Reach and a sultry Summertime (yes, the Gershwin number, recorded for the Zombies’ 1965 debut).
Any Zombies fan with her or his salt could cite some should-have-been-included numbers (Indication, anyone? She Does Everything for Me? The rest of Odessey and Oracle?). But with Argent and Blunstone little short of peak form, and the rest of the band clearly attuned to the Zombies’ signature sound, the overall excellence of Friday’s performance obscured any disappointments about what didn’t make the set list.
-- Curtis Ross, tbt*. Photo (not from Friday's set, obviously): Courtesy of the Zombies.