in performance: the zombies

zombies band

today’s zombies: jim rodford, colin blunstone, rod argent, tom toomey and steve rodford.

Few songs captured the head on crash of late ‘60s psychedelia and vintage Brit pop more vividly than Care of Cell 44, the leadoff tune to the Zombies’ storied sophomore album, Odyssey & Oracle. Last night, before an enthusiastic but somewhat meager-sized crowd at the Kentucky Theatre, the present day Zombies let every element of the tune’s masterful construction shine brilliantly.

There was the bright melodic framework designed by co-founder Rod Argent. On top of that was the ageless, near-operatic tenor singing of fellow original Zombie Colin Blunstone. Coloring the charge were bouncy, wordless harmonies from four of the band’s members that could put the Beach Boys to shame. Wrapping everything up were lyrics that captured the song’s simple but wildly unlikely premise: to offer salutations to a jailbird (“thinking of you while you’re so far away”).

It was a wild pop moment – one that summoned the ingenuity of the song’s original 1967 version with a level of technical and artistic proficiency that is largely absent when a band with such a cherished – and, in pop terms, ancient – history relaunches itself in the present day.

Credit such credibility to the two Zombie holdovers. Argent was always the key architect of the band’s sound. Last night, he proved that with keyboard orchestration that propelled the r&b sway of the 1965 single Can’t Nobody Love You and the summery pop-soul title tune from the band’s 2011 album, Breath Out Breath In. And, to absolutely no surprise, there was the scholarly but beautifully loose jazz solo that punctuated the signature hit Time of the Season.

Blunstone was the great wonder of this latest Zombies uprising. At age 68 (he is exactly 10 days younger than Argent), his vocal range and clarity was astoundingly strong, from the high chorus wail he summoned during the show-opening I Love You to the studied harmonic lead of A Rose for Emily (performed as a lean trio piece with Argent and bassist Jim Rodford).

Those talents also extended to the family tree concept applied to the concert repertoire. While Zombies tunes new and old dominated the set, the two leaders interjected hits from their respective careers. Highlights included Blunstone’s cover of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (which enhanced the song’s Motown roots with a blast of ‘70s-style British rock) and the unexpected show-closing encore of God Gave Rock and Roll To You (an anthemic 1973 hit Argent and Rodford scored with the band Argent).

While their steadfast instrumental and vocal skills provided the foundation of the 90 minute show, Argent and Blunstone also seemed genuinely jazzed by the music they were making. In short, this was no phoned in oldies act. This was a vital, involving pop parade fashioned from the past but built very much for the here and now.

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