I was on an Instagram Live session recently in which one of our favorite CD Junkies, Jim Farley, shared his newly acquired 2017 reissue of Odessey & Oracle. CD Junkies are music collectors who specialize in CDs, and this Junkie was jealous that I’d attended The Zombie’s O&O tribute show. Then, upon the unfortunate passing on 13 August of singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith, I read a story that mentioned Rod Argent’s production work with Nanci. They cited him as a member of his band Argent, but failed to mention his iconic work with The Zombies. Therefore I felt inspired to repost my review of that Odessey & Oracle performance. I’m glad I was there. Make sure to grab a copy of that 2017 reissue; it sounds particularly good on CD.
4 April 2017
Royal Oak Music Theater
Royal Oak, Michigan
Google “zombies” and you get all kinds of results pertaining to the undead that walk the earth. That’s also a pretty good description for many reunion tours of tired old bands looking to cash in one more time on past hits and brand recognition. So it’s notable when a band actually called The Zombies mounts a reunion tour to revisit a record that was never even a hit. God bless these world-class art-pop musicians and songwrights for gathering their surviving members one last time to play the now-cult-classic album Odessy and Oracle.
The Zombies brought the O&O tour to the Royal Oak Music Theater on 4 April 2017. I’m not sure why they chose this suburban-Detroit shit hole, with its notoriously dodgy acoustics and its infamously chatty patrons. But this is without question the best show I’ve ever experienced in the venue. “The Zombies featuring Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone” played a spirited assortment of old hits and new material in the first set. For the second set, they were joined on stage by the other surviving members of the classic lineup, bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy (original guitarist Paul Atkinson passed in 2004).
The second-set performance of Odessy and Oracle in its entirety was nothing short of a revelation. Keyboardist Rod Argent addressed the crowd to explain that they would only have done this with all the surviving members and only if they did a note-for-note recreation of the record. From the opening tack-piano pick-up of “Care of Cell 44,” it was apparent this was no idle threat. Lead vocalist Colin Blunstone was particularly amazing, as he seems to have lost very little of his powerful tenor vocal range. The ensemble harmonies, which lift this collection of tunes beyond mere pop confections, were impeccably recreated. A particular highlight for me was the essentially a capella choral song “Changes” (check out my eyewitness video of this tune). Chris White’s rendition of his “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” was absolutely revelatory, the pump organ achingly evoking the Great War trenches the anguished lyric describes. And of course “Time of the Season,” a Summer of Love anthem that wasn’t — until it became a hit in 1969 (long after the band separated).
The room was thankfully packed and the assembled faithful generous with their applause — oddly most boisterous for Rod Argent’s 70s radio hit “Hold Your Head Up.” An Argent crowd, we mused. I would expect nothing else at the ROMT.
The Zombies perform “Changes” at ROMT: