Lovers of baroque mid-’60s English pop were out in force Thursday night, packing the Knitting Factory for a first Los Angeles performance in decades by the Zombies’ Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent. Although best known to most listeners for their hits “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season,” the band’s fans pay obeisance to “Odessey and Oracle.” Arguably the apotheosis of psychedelic pop, it can stand beside the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” The selections from “Odessey” were the obvious highlights of Blunstone and Argent’s nearly two-hour appearance.
This tour was, Argent noted, the first time the material had been played live, as the Zombies broke up before the album’s 1968 release.
Stripped of the layers of synthesized keyboards and other mid-’60s production gambits, the gorgeous melodies of “Care of Cell 44” and “Beechwood Park” came to the fore and focused one’s attention on the interplay between Blunstone’s breathy, bluest of blue-eyed soul vocals and Argent’s skittery, jazz inflected keyboards.
Blunstone’s voice has held up very well over the years. He can reach the yearning high notes on “I Love You” and bring a swinging swelter to Gershwin’s “Summertime,” while its burnished, shadowed quality adds a new, rueful edge to “This Will Be Our Year” and “A Rose for Emily.” He even manages to breathe life into Argent’s early — ’70s FM radio warhorse “Hold Your Head Up,” although Argent’s other hit, the lugubrious “God Gave Rock and Roll to You,” is beyond redemption.
But that was a rare misstep. Playing for an aud that sang along with just about every number –even such obscurities as “Indication” — gave the band’s performance a joyous ease, with father/son rhythm section of Jim and Steve Rodford making a strong impression and original Zombie guitarist Paul Atkinson –an unannounced guest — joining the band for “She’s Not There.” They even cheered the two new songs — “I Want to Fly,” a surging ballad that stays just on the right side of schmaltz, and “In My Mind a Miracle,” a loping rocker tarnished by the inclusion of the lyrics “You’re my odyssey and my oracle,” a move just too cheesy for words, and out of place in an evening noteworthy for its unforced elegance.
You could count the Zombies as an influence upon local band the 88s, whose set immediately preceded Blunstone and Argent. Strains of the Kinks, Bowie and T-Rex could also be heard in the band’s clever, if overstuffed tunes. Singer Keith Slettedahl had a pleasingly off-kilter voice and a sharp ear for hooks, but he often overdoes it, piling on extra bridges, choruses and codas onto the tunes. When they work, as on “All the Same,” from their debut “Kind of Light” (EMK/Mootron), the results are exhilarating, but more often, the songs trip over themselves. But there’s a great deal of potential here; with some editing (or discerning how better juggle their myriad elements), the 88s could find the keys to success.