I can count the number of reunion shows that have truly moved me on the fingers of both hands. And when an artist was playing a classic album front to back, I might be able to make do with just one appendage—though Love performing Forever Changes with a full orchestra and the Jesus & Mary Chain scorching through Psychocandy were big for me. One interesting aspect of this phenomena is that bands sometimes attempt to perform a beloved old record that was never played live upon its original release—in many cases because it was intended as a strictly studio creation.
The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle is such an album—it barely made a ripple upon its release in April 1968, and at that point the band had been broken up for several months. “Time of the Season” became an unexpected hit in early 1969, but by then Zombies keyboardist Rod Argent had already started his next group, Argent (with Zombies bassist Chris White contributing as a songwriter). As a result the songs from Odessey and Oracle were never performed onstage by the musicians who recorded them. In fact, after “Time of the Season” charted in North America, two bogus bands calling themselves the Zombies hit the road to fill the void, one of them a four-piece whose lineup included two future members of ZZ Top.
I saw the Zombies in 2015 at the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana, on a tour where cofounders Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent (who pilot the current working version of the band) were joined by original members Chris White and Hugh Grundy to play all of Odessey and Oracle. I was skeptical that they could re-create such a lush, immaculately crafted LP live—it was recorded on the same four-track machine as Sgt. Pepper’s—but they dispelled my doubts from the very first note.
I was especially glad that so much of the 60s lineup came back together for the occasion—no one else could’ve done justice to White’s fragile singing on the antiwar epic “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” or Grundy’s peerless jazz-informed drumming on “Care of Cell 44.” With the addition of two Mellotrons and Blunstone’s perfectly intact vocal dandyisms, it was enough to bring this cynical old reviewer nearly to tears—the Zombies had summoned the spirit of their splendid, baroque psychedelia almost flawlessly. The fact that the same four original members are performing Odessey and Oracle again—this time at Thalia Hall on Thursday and Friday, April 13 and 14—is a gift of honeyed nectar from the gods of pop music.