zombies

Live Music: The Zombies at Central Park SummerStage, New York City, 6/15/2013

Must resist making a corny pun… must resist. Oh, what the hell. It’s the “Time of the Season” – the summer season, of course – for Central Park’s favorite performance series, SummerStage. And what a way to officially kick off that proverbial season. The Zombies – containing original members keyboardist Rod Argent and lead vocalist Colin Blunstone – treated the exuberant audience to not only creative covers of Motown classics like “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” the band’s signature hits – “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and the song that’s already been mentioned a dozen times in this paragraph – but also deeper cuts for the super fans.

The Zombies’ cult classic album “Odessey and Oracle” was released in 1967; the band broke up immediately after, so the material was never performed live. Until now, that is. Argent and Blunstone navigated the baroque-cum-psychedelic pop masterpiece, ably backed by a troupe of talented musicians. Perhaps the pinnacle of the medley (“Care of Cell 44,” “A Rose for Emily,” “I Want Her, She Wants Me”) was “This Will Be Our Year,” one of the album’s standouts, and, as Argent pointed out from the stage, a wedding favorite. The audience members couldn’t help but sling an arm around their best pals and sing along.

Blunstone’s voice is still lithe and ethereal, his movements youthful, reminiscent of all the great Zombies footage of yesteryear. Even his face still has the boyish charm of his younger self, evident in his playful grins. (I found out later that he was fighting a cold during the performance; I don’t think the audience even suspected.) Meanwhile, Argent on keys was like a pack of wild horses, with the energy to boot. During an extra-long rendition of his post-Zombies outfit Argent’s biggest hit, “Hold Your Head Up,” he raced around the stage, urging concertgoers to join in on the iconic chorus (which is not, as he explained, “hold your head up, woah,” but “hold your head up, woman”). Likewise, Blunstone showcased “Old and Wise” from his brief stint with the Alan Parsons Project.

The 90-minute-ish set was rounded out with tunes from the band’s newest release, 2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In. It’s always a challenge and, pardon my French, kind of a crapshoot when “legacy acts” integrate new material into live performances, but the Zombies, perhaps more than any band I’ve seen in the last five years, blended the songs effortlessly. It’s that kind of musicianship and prolificacy that renders the music both timeless and current, still bold, always beautiful, and proves that the Zombies will always have precious relevancy in rock ‘n’ roll.

Photos by Aylin Gucalp.