The Zombies hit Winnipeg’s McPhillip’s Street Station last night, celebrating their 50th anniversary as well as a brand new album titled Breathe Out, Breathe In.
Seeing and hearing this legendary 60s British Invasion band, which features founding members lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent, it’s hard to fathom they’ve been around for 5 decades, as their energy, vitality and appearance (particularly Argent who seems to defy time), belie the statistic.
Despite their undead moniker, The Zombies are anything but lifeless, whether playing material from their back catalogue, or songs from the new album, the band injects its utmost into their layered vocal harmonies and precise musical arrangements.
Watch the showmanship of Argent as he intensely attacks each solo with seeming life or death urgency, or listen to Blunstone nail the high notes in the bridge of Tell Her No, and you’ll quickly realize that you are in the presence of some serious musical ability.
The set list changed from their last visit in July 2009 with some differences in song order and additions from the new album.
The band opened the night paying tribute to their past with a handful of trio of early songs, starting with a solid r&b cover of Ray Charles’ classic “Sticks and Stones” from their 1st UK release, 1964’s Begin Here.
Next up was “I Love You,” a single written in 1965 by original Zombie bass player Chris White that – in keeping with the group’s legacy of performing and writing hit songs which were largely ignored during their original release – was a North American cover hit 3 years later for a group called People, followed by a rendition of the Solomon Burke classic “Can’t Nobody Love You,” also from Begin Here.
The Zombies great live sound benefits from the formidable talent of longtime bandmembers ex-Argent/Kinks bassist Jim Rodford, son Steve Rodford on drums and new addition electric/acoustic guitarist Tom Toomey.
As Blunstone, impeccably dressed in a blacks suit and white shirt, was about to introduce a selection from the new album, a rowdy crowd member yelled, “You’re great Colin.” The singer joked, “I didn’t hear you, but I think I agree.”
They then jumped 50 years in time, playing the title track from Breathe Out, Breathe In, which, as Argent, fashionably attired (for the ‘Peg) garbed in a Winnipeg Jets jersey and jeans, explained they had just recently performed on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
A fine cover of the David Ruffin classic “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” proceeded some further selections from the new album including: “A Moment in Time,” “Show Me the Way” a rocker which featured Argent on some feisty lead vocals, and the Blunstone penned “Any Other Way,” which highlighted an excellent acoustic solo from Toomey.
The mid-set highlight of the show was a mini presentation of songs from their critically acclaimed 1968 classic album Odessey and Oracle album. Tracks performed included: Rose for Emily, Care of Cell 44, Beechwood Park, This Will Be Our Year, I Want Her She Wants Me (featuring Argent on vocals), and the magnificent Argent penned Time of the Season, featuring Blunstone’s haunting lead vocals, which netted the band their 1st well deserved standing ovation.
A couple of more well received tracks from the new album “Play It For Real” and “Let It Go” moved the night into the homestretch which began with an early single “Whenever You’re Ready” followed by another Argent penned hit, the 1964 smash Tell Her No.
Argent’s 1972 anthem hit “Hold Your Head Up” from All Together Now, complete with extended keyboard solo and excellent lead vocal work by Blunstone, had the audience singing and on their feet – thanks in no small part to Argent’ ability to work the crowd from 1 end of the stage to the other, and the night was wrapped with their 1964 Canadian/US Top 2 smash She’s Not There followed by a moody cover of George Gershwin’s masterpiece “Summertime’ for an encore.
The evening was formidably opened by English 60s progressive/ folk rockers The Strawbs in an acoustic configuration, featuring founding member singer/guitarist trio Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert on lead guitar/vocals and Chas Cronk on acoustic bass/12 string acoustic and vocals. The trio performed acoustic interpretations of classic Strawbs material including “Benedictus,” “New World,” “Autum,” and “Lay Down.” The set was, sadly, over far too quickly at just under 40 minutes in order to accommodate the venue time schedule.