Last Night: The Zombies at Fitzgerald's

The Zombies, Elephant Stone Fitzgerald's March 17, 2013

There's something about The Zombies that has always set them off from the other bands of the British Invasion. Maybe it's the orchestral, minor chords, or the ethereal breathiness of singer Colin Blunstone's delivery, or the impeccable timing of all those psychedelic organ solos.

For whatever reason, though, the band was challenging enough to have limited critical success despite a slew of hits, and broke up after only five years. Their biggest U.S. radio hit, "Time of the Season," was released a year after the band's amicable split in 1967.

Yet their influence has been far-reaching. Among the bands who have covered Zombies hits are The Foo Fighters, Dinosaur Jr., Tom Petty and Of Montreal. They're mainstays for Wes Anderson soundtracks, and their jazz- and Motown-influence psychedelia still stands the test of time, as evidenced by the rave reviews their latest album, Breathe Out, Breathe In, has received from the likes of The Independent and Rolling Stone.

So Sunday night at Fitzgerald's, the mostly middle-aged crowd was plenty willing to follow along with band founders Rod Argent and Blunstone as they meandered through a retrospective of 50 years of Zombies hits, along with solo work and a cover or two thrown in for good measure.

"Time of the Season" was tossed smack in the middle, but only after Argent got a few songs off the latest album, and few heavy pitches for it, out of the way. "We're quite proud of it," he said.

Touring with longtime Kinks bassist Jim Rodford (Rod Argent's cousin), the band revealed their own heritage in the first few songs they played. They opened with "I Love You," segued immediately into the title song of the new album, then rounded it out with the Dave Brubeck-flavored "I Want You Back Again" and a cover of "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted," which was a huge hit for Blunstone in the U.K.

Onstage, both Blunstone and Argent maintained zen-like postures -- Blunstone seeming to melt away into the lyrics as he was singing them, eyes closed and a beatific smile on his face. Argent, after every song, would clasp his hands to his heart in appreciation while the crowd, which was the teeniest bit rowdy, whooped and hollered. Not unexpected -- Rodford told the audience that the last time he and Argent played Houston was with Argent's eponymous band in the 1970s.

"It's such a gas to play in front of such a kicking band every day," Argent replied.

Other highlights included the cinematic "Old and Wise," which Blunstone recorded with the Alan Parsons Project; the keyboard solo in "She's Not There"; and Argent telling the crowd the real lyrics to his '70s hit single are not "Hold your head up, whoa" but "hold your head up, woman."

Many of the band's earlier songs suffered from overproduction. I would have liked to hear a Hammond as opposed to the modern keyboard Argent was using, but by the second half of the show, the original tone of The Zombies seemed to be coming back. Plus, you can't begrudge a bunch of guys who have been playing for half a century for wanting to change things up a bit.

The band closed the show, their last date in the U.S., with a near a cappella version of "Summertime," probably the best song of the night. I was hoping they'd do "The Way I Feel Inside," also an a cappella single, but "Summertime" was a perfect consolation.

Opening band Elephant Stone are worth a listen if you're into modern psychedelic pop along the lines of Brian Jonestown Massacre. The Canadian band incorporates traditional Indian instruments; singer Rishi Dhir studied Indian classical music. I don't love the sitar, but their songs took on the droning sound that I love in work from bands like The Black Angels, so I didn't write them off completely. I'd like to hear more from them.

Personal Bias: I think The Zombies are better than The Beatles. What?

The Crowd: Vocal but well-behaved.

Overheard in the Crowd: Lots and lots of cheering when The Kinks were mentioned. Like, even more cheering than for The Zombies themselves. It felt awkward.

Random Notebook Dump: Add Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing to Netflix queue. (The song "Just Out of Reach" was written for the soundtrack.)


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