Live Review: The Zombies stand the test of time, and the season, at the Wilbur Theatre

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]eunion acts will come and go, but some bands are still doing what they can to hang on to the dream (to paraphrase a certain song). This is the case with the U.K. mod/soul/baroque ’60s heroes The Zombies, known for hits like “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season”, whose two frontmen Colin Blunstone (the breathy voice of the band; basically Dusty Springfield in drag) and Rod Argent (the wizardly organist) brought a preview of their new album Still Got That Hunger to the Wilbur Theater Tuesday night.

The selections Blunstone and Argent played from their newest work — the Zombies’ fourth reunion album since revitalizing the band in 1991 — were fairly solid, and performed with great gusto with guitarist Tom Toomey, long-time Kinks bassist Jim Rodford, and drummer Steve Rodford. However, most of the theater’s audience was there to see the classic Zombies’ line-up reunite in the second set as part of their first U.S. tour in 50 years (!) to play their 1968 classic LP Odessey and Oracle in exact heavenly verisimilitude. And if that wouldn’t be enough to give Opera Man a grande stiffo, I don’t know what would.

The first set featured ripping versions of early hits “Tell Her No,” “She’s Not There,” Blunstone’s heartbreakingly winsome “Caroline Goodbye” (from his first post-Zombies release), and Argent’s signature song from his own homonymous post-Zombies band, “Hold Your Head Up” (where the lion-maned maestro played a ridiculously decadent organ solo in all the keys with glorious flair). Not to gloss over the Zombies’ first strike, but the real event started at the beginning of the second set, when two more members of the Zombies classic 1962 to 1967 line-up joined Blunstone and Argent on-stage.

First, original drummer Hugh Grundy took to the kit and then, dressed like an old math professor unpacked from moth balls, came bassist Chris White. Ironically, White always dressed in fuddy-duddy suits with heavy glasses, which is part of what made the original Zombies so cool, and ultimately, relatable. But tonight, White stood in sharp contrast to career-rocker Argent as a humble every-man who magically stumbled onto one of the greatest albums of all time. White, at the age of 24, penned half of Odessey and Oracle — a work that stands with albums like Love’s Forever Changes and the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society as an elite baroque-pop masterwork in that near-godly echelon just below the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. How great is it to be potentially the fourth- or fifth-best pop album of the late-‘60s? Pretty fucking great.

Although original guitarist Paul Atkinson could not join us from the beyond (R.I.P.), four out of five classic Zombies ain’t bad. From the rollicking piano intro to “Care of Cell 44” to the final resolve on “Time of the Season,” the lads from St. Albans were on point. Now restrained to respect the time-tested deftness of his masterwork, Argent shined on all of his keyboard parts, with highlights including the classical elegance of his composition “A Rose For Emily” (which brought the house down, thanks also to Blunstone’s perfectly wonderous execution of the soft, pleading melody) and “Brief Candles,” a White song brought to life by Argent’s delicate finger-work that also roused a grateful ovation for Professor White when he sang his own trademark verse.

The more psychedelic numbers among the bunch were greatly abetted by the addition of Brian Wilson sideman Darian Sahanaja on second keyboard (mostly playing string mellotron parts from the album), especially on numbers such as the “Strawberry Fields”-esque “Beechwood Park” and the intoxicating melancholy of “Hung Up on a Dream.”

But no matter how perfectly the incredibly intricate album was executed, it would not have mattered were it not for the preciously preserved pipes of Blunstone. With a voice that could even make most truck drivers faint, Blunstone delivered about 90 percent of the punch and cream that he laid to acetate in the fall of 1967. Of course, a total of six backing vocalists didn’t hurt, especially considering that the Odessey and Oracle backing vocals are essentially an album of their own! But Blunstone is what makes the complexity of the band, and especially this album, have real soul. It’s funny to think that all of these bands were making albums back then that were simply impossible to hear on stage based on the limitations of live performance in that era. How sweet it is to open that time capsule all these years later.

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