Zombies 50th Anniversary ‘Odessey and Oracle’ Tour

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The Zombies
Paramount Theatre, Austin, TX
October 1, 2015
In A Word: Epiphany
JEALEXphoto-8

JEALEXphoto/Jessica Alexander/jealexphoto.com

In the near half-century since its release, the Zombies‘ bittersweet 1968 baroque-pop gem Odessey and Oracle has gone from cult favorite to acknowledged classic. The dozen-song album – a haunting song cycle awash with youthful regret and hopeful optimism – carries as much emotional depth, melodic resonance and musical invention as any album of its era, or any era.

In 2008, Blunstone and Argent – who had resumed touring under the Zombies banner in 2002 – reunited with original bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy (founding guitarist Paul Atkinson passed away four years earlier) to perform the album in its entirety in London, with an expanded instrumental lineup capable of reproducing the album’s exquisitely sophisticated vocal and instrumental arrangements.

It’s taken seven more years for the band to bring the O&O spectacle to America, but the Austin gig – the second night of a four-week run of dates – fully lived up to the original album’s magnificence. The Zombies’ longstanding current touring lineup – Argent and Blunstone, plus ex-Kinks/Argent bassist Jim Rodford, guitarist Tom Toomey and drummer Steve Rodford – opened with solid set that mixed vintage Zombies chestnuts with tunes from the band’s impressively vibrant new album Still Got That Hunger.

[The Zombies’ 50th Anniversary O&O tour comes to North America this spring. Click here or here for tickets.]

With the four original Zombies augmented by the newer members plus longtime Brian Wilson collaborator Darian Sahanaja on additional keyboards, the expanded ensemble brought Odessey and Oracle to life with a level of sensitivity and eloquence that assured that these venerable tunes were never in danger of sounding like museum pieces.

Particularly impressive were the O&O numbers that the Argent/Blunstone quintet doesn’t normally play due to the difficulty of reproducing their original arrangements on stage. The side-one trifecta of autumnal Chris White compositions – “Maybe After He’s Gone,” “Beechwood Park” and “Brief Candles” – was especially affecting. Two of the set’s biggest ovations were reserved for a pair of rarely-performed White compositions, the massed-harmony opus “Changes” and the harrowing anti-war “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914).” The latter was performed in a stark arrangement with White’s vocal accompanied by Argent on a World War I-vintage pump organ.

The set climaxed as the album does, with the surging hit anthem “Time of the Season,” which was followed on stage by an energetic reprise of the band’s 1964 debut hit “She’s Not There.”

Watch a performance of the song from two weeks later…

But this show wasn’t about hits, it was about transcendence, and the reunited Zombies delivered in spades.

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Scott Schinder

Scott Schinder

Scott Schinder has written written about music and popular culture for various publications in the U.S. and overseas, including Rolling Stone, Creem, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Time Out New York, Newsday, Stereophile, Musician, Tower Pulse, New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Texas Music. He's also written several music-related books and liner notes for numerous CD reissues and box sets and has contributed essays and other pieces to several other books, including all six editions of The Trouser Press Record Guide.
Scott Schinder
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