The Zombies immortalize Oddessy & Oracle

The Zombies at the Commodore Ballroom 21/04/17

Photo by Ryan Johnson
Photo by Ryan Johnson

Playing two distinct sets with two distinct lineups, the Zombies performed a spectrum of their earlier work at the Commodore in Vancouver last Friday (April 21). The first set, featuring the established touring Zombies band, included drummer Steve Rodford, guitarist Tom Toomey and former Kinks bassist Jim Rodford, who have faithfully toured with the band since 2011.

Covering much of the same material from their recent tours, the Zombies performed equal parts hits and deep cuts; fans were rewarded with early stand outs like “Tell Her No”, “I Want You Back Again,” the Bo Diddley cover “Road Runner” and “You Really Got A Hold On Me”. Perhaps the lowest point of the show was the performance of “Hold Your Head Up,” the only non-Zombies tune, which strayed far from the band’s celebrated territory of classic ‘60s pop rock to a much more indulgent, ‘70s arena rock aesthetic; the song’s execution was adequate but out of place next to the band’s iconic piano based tunes. The band’s breakout single “She’s Not There” was sharp and urgent in its execution before most of the band left the stage, leaving keyboardist Rod Argent and vocalist Colin Bluntstone to perform a phenomenally intimate take of the “The Way I feel Inside,” a succulently sweet and stripped down love song that would prove to be one of the evening’s highlights. At times the bands sound strayed from the strong classic essence of their 60s roots. The point of seeing a classic ‘60s band is to relive the past, not attempt to update their sound. Toomeys guitar playing, while more than capable and on point, would be more authentic with a classic instrument instead of his modern model of guitar.

Following an intermission, the Zombies returned with a changed up roaster featuring all of the original members of the band save guitarist Paul Akinson who passed away in 2004. The smiles of drummer Hugh Grundy glimmered in the intimate Commodore Ballroom. The Zombies are largely overlooked as one of the most talented and progressive music artists of their era; it was a pleasure to see the original members given their overdue respect by a multi-generational audience. Original bassist Chris White, who despite writing much of the band’s material, declined to take part in most of the band’s performances of the past decade. Playing his compositions from Oddessy & Oracle, White’s inclusion added a special kick to the performance. From the opening notes of “Care of Cell 44,” the Zombies presented an immaculate incarnation of one of the most important psychedelic albums of all time. The faithful rendition of Oddessy was as authentic as ‘60s music can be. To the right fan, the merits of Oracle match or surpass the majesty of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Rose For Emily” simmered with a gentle beauty and Argent’s mellotron on “Hung Up on a Dream” sounded as if from some other heavenly world.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the group’s grimmest composition, the Chris White penned “A Butcher’s Tale.” Featuring an awkward, almost accordion-organ tone, the composition deals with the obscene horrors of warfare from the First World War. The lyrics “I have seen a friend of mine/hang on the wire/like some rag toy” felt ghostly yet honorific in their performance, which juxtaposed surrounding Wedding favourite “This Will Be Our Year” and the overtly joyous “Friends of Mine.” Of course, Oracle’s finale “Time of the Season” ended on a spectacular note with Argent’s highly capable, irregularly timed organ forays.

Closing off the night with a liberal interpretation of “She’s Not There,” both respective lineups collaborated with an instrumentally injected second take of the band’s breakout single. For a ‘60s purist, the experiment felt like a miss considering the band’s exquisite back catalogue of high calibre singles. At their last Vancouver performance, the Zombies performed their variant of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” That performance of the stunningly gorgeous, dreamy 1930s musical classic was worth the price of admission alone. The new-age take of “She’s Not There” fell short of the band’s ultimate potential, especially when revisiting their earliest days where the Zombies show the most life.