Spotlight: The Zombies
11:30pm, Brazos Hall
"We haven't really done anything like this before, so it's a bit of a journey into the unknown for us," Zombies frontman Colin Blunstone says of his band's South by Southwest debut.
In their original Sixties heyday, the Zombies scored the memorable minor-key hits "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No," which marked the quintet as one of the British Invasion's most distinctive and inventive combos. They bowed out in 1968 with baroque-pop masterpiece Odessey and Oracle, which received little notice at the time yet eventually produced a smash in "Time of the Season," which hit the stateside singles charts a year after the group disbanded.
The Zombies' posthumous stature increased substantially in the ensuing years, with Odessey and Oracle embraced by successive generations of listeners. Blunstone says he and Argent were largely unaware of that groundswell when they reunited for a handful of shows in 2000. Public demand soon made the arrangement a permanent one, with the retooled Zombies maintaining a busy international touring schedule and recording three studio albums, the most recent being 2011's Breathe Out, Breathe In.
"The whole situation has been a very big surprise to me," Blunstone asserts, adding, "I never thought that I'd sing these songs live again, and we certainly didn't think that we'd ever be playing as the Zombies."
Ironically, the bittersweet vibe and sophisticated songwriting that originally made the Zombies a tougher sell than their more upbeat U.K. contemporaries has ultimately worked in the group's favor, giving their vintage output a musical and emotional resonance that transcends the period in which it was recorded.
"I don't think we ever really fit in with the other bands in the British Invasion, because a lot of our early influences came from classical music and modern jazz," Blunstone notes. "Odessey and Oracle and a lot of the tracks we recorded in the Sixties do seem to have a timelessness about them. For me, that's a great advantage in singing these songs night after night, because they still feel fresh and exciting to me."
Although the band's decades-long absence contributed to the mystique that accompanied Odessey and Oracle's rise from forgotten flop to acknowledged classic, today's Zombies – in which Argent and Blunstone are joined by bassist Jim Rodford (a member of Argent's eponymous Seventies outfit before serving a lengthy stint with the Kinks), Rodford's son Steve on drums, and Tom Toomey on guitar – are a hard-working touring act. Indeed, at a time when many musicians their age are eyeing retirement, Blunstone and Argent are in one of the busiest phases of their careers. Blunstone recently released a new solo album, On the Air Tonight, and ended a solo tour of the UK and Europe just a few days before the start of the Zombies' current North American run, which precedes a year's worth of projected roadwork.
"Maybe Rod and I are subconsciously making up for lost time, because the original Zombies never got to do a farewell tour, and because neither of us toured regularly for about 20 years," Blunstone observes. "The travel can be challenging, but we feel very fortunate at this point in our lives to have so much interest in the band. Rod learned to write songs writing for my voice, and I learned to sing singing Rod's songs.
"We spent our formative years sparking off one another, so there's a very deep musical bond."
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