It might seem ironic that the 50 year-old band The Zombies would perform at Santa Monica Pier as part of the Twilight Concert Series. However, to suggest that the band is nearing the end of its life would be inaccurate given the brilliance of its performance and the enthusiasm of its reception. Indeed, moans of disappointment rang out over the Internet as numerous people realized that The Zombies had been in town, and they had missed the opportunity to see the band. Such is the strength of their music, and the years have not diminished it.
Though the band is currently pared-down (no pun intended) to two of its original five members, those members happen to be Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone. Founder / lead songwriter / keyboardist Argent spoke with the Weekly last week about his inspirations and creative process. On stage, he is simply on fire. When he's not standing up from his keyboard station to set up various songs or encourage collective hand-clapping, he is making his Hammond organ and Kurzweil keyboard sing as if their electronic lives depended on it. As he revealed in his interview, this has always been his approach to performing and recording -- to put his all into every performance so that the music has a life of its own.
Lead singer Blunstone possesses a very distinctive voice. It is breathy, sweet, and vulnerable, and when it gives manifestation to The Zombies's more haunting and melancholic songs, tears can easily flow. Conversely, on some of the more aggressive numbers, Blunstone's voice commands a cathartic feeling of triumph. At the Twilight Concert, Blunstone's performance demonstrated that age has not withered his ability to command such sentiments.
Rounding out the band was legendary bass player Jim Rodford, who is Argent's cousin and who was very instrumental in getting The Zombies started in 1964. On drums was Rodford's son, Steve, who writes music for television and films, and who plays many instruments, besides. Finally, on guitar was session player and virtuoso Tom Toomey, who has been touring with The Zombies for the last several years. Toomey's solos ably commanded the spotlight during more than one instance.
The setlist during the nearly two-hour show included a mix of classic Zombies songs, songs from Argent and Blunstone's other projects, and new songs (including one that had only just been written a week ago). Highlights included: a mini-set of songs from their psychedelic album Odessey and Oracle, which includes the hit "Time of the Season" and "Care of Cell 44" [Argent revealed that Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) has named the latter as his favorite song of all time]; original Zombies bassist's composition "Hold Your Head Up Woman," which featured an amazing extended keyboard jam; the Argent-penned, but oft Kiss-credited song "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You;" "She's Not There," of course; and, to cap off the evening, the wistful "The Way I Feel Inside," which was prominently featured in Wes Anderson's film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
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Naturally, The Zombies weren't the only band to perform on Thursday night. The psychedelic rockers Mystic Braves kicked the evening off in rocking style. And though Mystic Braves's principal audience was an almost exclusively young crowd, by the time The Zombies took the spotlight, none of the youngsters had dispersed. They had simply been joined by yesteryear's rock 'n rollers. As Argent had discussed in his interview with the Weekly, one of the reasons why the music of The Zombies remains so powerful is that it never follows any influence apart from that of its own muse. Having such a powerful and timeless act headlining a Twilight Concert at Santa Monica Pier shows not only that the principal sponsors of the event, Myspace [yes, they're still around -- as they, themselves, assured the crowd prior to the performances], know that The Zombies still command a huge draw, but that the pier is built sturdily enough to withstand the force of a huge and animated crowd jumping up and down for extended periods of time.