The Zombies

Quayside Exchange, Sunderland

20 April 2006

I think this was my fourth Zombies gig, and they've all be very similar in format and set list, so I pretty much knew what to expect from the performance: quality songs by superb and charismatic musicians. Something laid-back, low-key, and intimate, where I can sit back, appreciate the music, and go home with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Just... a "nice" gig. And I wasn't disappointed in that respect... but there was something about this particular show... I'm not sure what it was but it suddenly clicked in after a few songs and turned this from a nice set of familiar old tunes into something quite stunning.

First there was Keith Airey on guitar, who demonstrated his considerable talent with a whole set of flashy techniques — two-handed tapping, controlled feedback, fast finger-style playing, even making music by running his guitar along a microphone stand. I was almost expecting him to set fire to the thing! I don't think I've ever seen him play better (maybe it was the home crowd effect?). But he's not just flash, he can do everything a song needs — whether it's screaming rock solos for Old and Wise or God Gave Rock and Roll To You, psychedelic freak-outs for Indication or Hold your Head Up, or beautiful melodic playing for Misty Roses (where he fills in for the entire string quartet from the original 1971 recording).

And that's the second reason why these guys are so good — the diversity of styles they play. Pop, soul, rock, psychedelic, prog, theyve done it all over their 40+ years, and they mix it all freely in the set. You don't just get Zombies material, you get plenty from Argent and Blunstone's post-Zombies career. They have dropped a few songs songs from their recent CD (which is a shame) and concentrate more on the 60s and 70s material. But they also drop in two brand new — as in not yet recorded — songs, one written by Colin and one by Rod, with a promise of a new CD to come. Very good songs, too, and good to see that they are still making new music and not just resting on past success.

Ok, third reason for this concert being so good: Colin Blunstone. His voice was perfect, from the breathy crooning of Misty Roses to the soaring notes of I Don't Believe in Miracles. He's got a unique voice, an absolutely beautiful voice, and it sounds just as good now as it did in 1965.

And finally, and star of the show for me, the amazing Rod Argent, who I rank as one of the great keyboard players in rock. Sticking mainly to piano and Hammond, he dominates every song with his energetic playing, inventive sounds, and marvellous ear for a good tune. I don't know what else to say about him, other than everybody with an interest in jazz or rock organ playing should go and watch him play.

Well... I wasn't expecting to write that much. And I honestly wasn't expecting to write this either: it was more than "a nice gig", it was the best concert I've ever seen.