The Zombies were once one of the most underrated groups of the British Invasion. However, time has been good to the band. As founding member, keyboardist, and composer Rod Argent proudly pointed out during the band's set last night at the Mardi Gras Casino, its legend and music has been much extolled in recent times by the likes of Tom Petty, Dave Grohl, and Paul Weller.
While the Zombies have found a few gilded champions, the band has always held a special place in the hearts of Invasion aficionados, and the brilliance of its output remains difficult to overstate, as anyone who has spent some quality time with the band's 1968 album, Odessy and Oracle, can attest.
2014's version of the the Zombies -- with key members Argent and iconic frontman Colin Blunstone intact -- performed to a capacity crowd last night in Hallandale Beach.
There is a certain caveat to seeing aging artists perform, a haunting anxiety cast by the implausibility that any of them can live up to the meet the myth their music has spun. The venue of choice -- a stage set at the foot of a dog track nestled in the backyard of a casino -- only further fueled our apprehension that we were in for a night of disappointment, and that this piece would have more to do with paying respects than enjoying a show. How very wrong we were.
As the crowd bustled about in the track's grandstands and folding chairs, the Zombies began their set with a revelation in that Colin Blunstone, now in his 69th year, has inexplicably honed the voice that provided the breathy, velveteen coos of the band's classics into a a powerful, controlled belt.
Every note Blunstone sang was confidently put in its rightful place with just the right amount of British charm and a dash of unexpected swagger. The wandering, psych-kissed soul of "I Want You Back Again" was a supreme display of vocal perfection. Blunstone wailed the song's choruses over harmonies that may as well have been auto-tuned, and the song's deft piano explorations had the crowd positively spellbound.
The highlight of the set was a cluster of favorites pulled from Odessy and Oracle, which began with a short history lesson on the once tragic obscurity of the album, courtesy of Rod Argent. The band began this part of the show with a rare performance of "A Rose for Emily," which Argent dedicated to an audience member who had told him her granddaughter was named after the track at the meet and greet earlier in the evening.
As the band began to weave the tale of "Care of Cell 44," Blunstone's voice started to further recall that of his youth, bringing the album to life with each airy lyric sung. "This Will Be Our Year" had audience members rise to their feet, dancing, visibly caught in the thralls of the sounds from yesteryear. The performance came to a head as the instantly recognizable "boom-doom-pst-ahhh" of "Time of the Season" wafted through the night's cool air, which warned of a rain that never came. The performance of the song was a simply ideal moment in time with a classic and its creators.
The end of the set included a pair of R&B covers from its past, "Tell Her No" and "You Really Got a Hold on Me," for which Blunstone continued to flex his vocals to the delight of the crowd. The band played a couple of hits from Argent and Blunstone's respective post-Zombies careers also. Bolstered by former Kinks bassist Jim Rodford, his son Steve Rodford on drums, and the impeccable Tom Toomey on guitar, Argent and Blunstone made good on the promise of the band's legend last night, and shirked the misconception that an aging band is incapable of chasing its own dragon.
As the crowd filed out towards the endless sea of cars surrounding the casino, the Who's "Baba O'Riley" played over the PA and signaled an astounding volley of professional fireworks which exploded over the dog track for what felt like an eternity.
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