When the Zombies announced this year’s fall tour, fans all over the US were ecstatic. Not only would the band be performing their legendary 1968 album Odessey and Oracle in its entirety, but they would be reuniting four of the five original members — minus Paul Atkinson who passed away in 2004 — in order to do it. This meant that lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent, who have been touring as the Zombies for the past 11 years, would be joined by their original bassist and drummer, Chris White and Hugh Grundy, to perform the album on American soil for the first time ever. It was exactly the tour that many passionate fans have always hoped for but never fully expected to happen. And yet, here it finally is.
Considering Odessey and Oracle’s popularity, it’s a little surprising that the Zombies booked such a relatively small, remote theater as the Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio. But apparently, the distance didn’t discourage many people from coming down to see the show, as the place was absolutely packed with attendees hailing from Cleveland to California. The audience even included some big names, like Jimmie Fox of the James Gang, Graham Nash of the Hollies and CSNY, and the creator of Odessey and Oracle’s famously misspelled cover, Terry Quirk, who made the trip all the way from London.
As a longtime fan of the Zombies, I made sure to grab a front-row ticket as soon as they went on sale, and I did not regret my investment one bit. The concert was, by far, one of the best I have ever attended, and having such a great seat in an intimate venue made it even better — especially since I ended up sitting next to Terry Quirk, who was kind enough to sign my copy of Odessey and Oracle.
Although I have seen the Zombies before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I must say that they totally outdid themselves with this particular show, which was split into two sets. The first consisted of a selection of ’60s Zombies tunes, as well as cuts from their splendid new album Still Got That Hunger, and even a couple songs from Colin Blunstone’s and Rod Argent’s own careers, all performed with Jim Rodford on bass, Steve Rodford on drums, and Tom Toomey on guitar. The second half was, of course, purely Odessey and Oracle, which the band played straight through with the help of Chris White and Hugh Grundy. Each set would have sufficed as a great concert on its own, but together they made for a truly special evening.
If anyone had arrived to the Kent Stage with a shred of doubt that the Zombies might not be on their game, those misgivings would have been completely dispelled by the first song of the night, “I Love You,” a Zombies classic which wonderfully showcased Blunstone’s commanding vocals. Throughout the concert, I was deeply impressed by how well the lead singer has maintained his voice over the years. Having already listened to the Zombies’ newest album a few times, I found that Blunstone somehow sounded even better live, ranging from a tender, heartfelt tone on songs like “Can’t Nobody Love You” and “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” to raw, soulful power on “Moving On” and “Edge of the Rainbow.” I was especially excited to hear his lovely rendition of “Caroline Goodbye,” a single from his 1971 release One Year, and one of my personal favorites.
The rest of the group was also in top form. Rod Argent tore up the keyboards on every song, most notably “Time of the Season” and Argent’s 1972 hit, “Hold Your Head Up,” which he always accompanies with an amusing little lecture, lest the anyone sing the chorus incorrectly as “Hold your head up, woah,” instead of the actual lyric, “Hold your head up, woman.” His and Blunstone’s commentary throughout the show was both entertaining and informative, providing insight into each song while dropping a few rather hilarious jokes along the way. One bit that really cracked me up was when Blunstone told the story of how he decided he wanted to write songs after seeing Argent, the Zombies’ principal songwriter, drive up to band practice in a Rolls-Royce.
However, all this was only leading up to the true highlight of the evening, the moment everyone had been waiting for, when the Zombies retook the stage after a 20 minute intermission and broke into the opening chords of “Care of Cell 44.” For me — and many other audience members, I’m sure — this was a fairly surreal moment, finally hearing this album that I had listened to over and over again being played right before my eyes by four of the same musicians who were responsible for the recordings that had become so profoundly important to me. I couldn’t help singing along with each song, and cheering with the enthusiastic crowd at every break.
It was especially cool having Chris White there to perform songs that he had written and originally sung, and to my surprise, I found one of his best contributions was on “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914).” Admittedly, this is the only track on Odessey and Oracle that I tend to skip over, not because I think it’s bad, but because it genuinely creeps me out. For the live version, Rod Argent accompanied White’s poignant singing on a portable organ that was actually played on the battlefield during World War I, creating an atmosphere that was still very eerie, yet more mournful than frightening, and so effective that everyone in the audience was completely silent as they soaked in the performance.
Thoughtful details such as the vintage organ were scattered all throughout the Odessey and Oracle portion of the show, right down to the exact same Mellotron lines, bongo drums, and zill cymbals that are heard in the studio version of “Changes.” Rod Argent expressed that they had made it their priority to be as close to the album recordings as possible, and they certainly made good on that goal. It was clear that the Zombies understood just how much the album means to their fans, and they did it justice while having plenty of fun at the same time. This was particularly apparent on two of Odessey and Oracle‘s most cheerful tracks, “I Want Her She Wants Me” and “Friends of Mine,” during which the band was smiling and getting just as swept up into the music as the audience.
Every song was rendered as only the Zombies could render it, recapturing the ethereal, psychedelic quality of “Brief Candles,” “Beechwood Park,” and “Hung Up On A Dream,” as well as the warm, hopeful spirit of “This Will Be Our Year” and “Care of Cell 44.” After finishing the album with their last big hit, “Time of the Season,” the band came full circle with a reprise of their first hit “She’s Not There,” closing out the show with both new band members and old, singing together while everyone danced in the aisles. I could not have imagined a more perfect end to the evening.
It’s probably safe to say that everyone left this concert satisfied, whether they were already devoted fans, or newcomers who had just discovered this great group. For me, it was one of those shows that I’ll be proud to tell people about years from now, and I strongly urge every music fan out there to attend one of the remaining stops on the Odessey and Oracle tour. Whether you’re familiar with the band’s repertoire or only know a handful of their songs, I can guarantee you will not be disappointed by their expert musicianship and songwriting chops. Once again, the Zombies prove that they are just as enduring as the amazing album they are known for, and that their music will continue to be enjoyed for years to come.