The invite was for the premiere of their first-ever music video, which it was—thereby drawing the celeb likes of Paul Shaffer, Art Garfunkel and Ronnie Spector. But the video for “Any Other Way” (from The Zombies’ most recent album Breathe Out, Breathe In) aside, Thursday night’s event at the Cutting Room marked a most rare first acoustic performance by the legendary British Invasion band’s two principals, vocalist Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent—both miraculously stronger than ever after over 50 years together.
“Over 50 years, and it’s our very first video!” said Blunstone, speaking of the music clip after the pair opened with “Tell Her No,” The Zombies' second hit, from 1965.
“We’re kind of slow learners!” he continued, his genially understated speaking tone as gentle yet rich as his exquisite singing voice, which after all this time can only be described as supernatural. The Zombies, he added, were a bit apprehensive in filming the performance footage (which was shot at the Cutting Room), “but after 50 years, we had our chances!”
In one of several noteworthy narratives, Blunstone then explained that he had been awakened from a deep sleep in the studio in order to record “Tell Her No,” hence his garbled lyric in the second verse. He also recalled that on the strength of The Zombies’ signature first hit “She’s Not There” from 1964, the group performed eight shows a day at Murray the K’s fabled Christmas shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre with the likes of Dionne Warwick, Ben E. King and The Drifters.
But in all The Zombies’ history, Argent noted, he and Blunstone had never before performed acoustically as a duo. Songs on the group’s “normal set list,” then, had been crossed out, with Argent joking that only two remained.
The remainders focused on two albums: Breathe Out, Breathe In and the enduring 1968 masterpiece Odessey and Oracle, which despite yielding the massive international hit “Time Of The Season,” pretty much stiffed in the U.S. at the time of release, but has steadily grown in stature, what with the likes of Paul Weller and Dave Grohl testifying to its immense personal influence.
From Breathe Out, Breathe In came the titletrack, during which you could really hear the sparkling piano play of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most important keyboardists, and “Any Other Way.” The Odessey and Oracle selections started with Grohl’s acknowledged life-changing song “Care Of Cell 44,” after which Argent and Blunstone proceeded into "A Rose For Emily,” “This Will Be Our Year,” and “Time Of The Season”—this preceded by Blunstone’s somewhat warm memory of Argent’s frustration over Blunstone’s inability to pick up on his vision of the way the chorus should be sung.
“You bloody sing it!” Blunstone recalled telling Argent, his own frustration mounting. “You’re the bloody lead singer, you sing it!” Argent countered.
Blunstone then pointed out the irony in the dispute over how the line “It’s the time of the season for loving” should be sung, then the Cutting Room crowd ironically sang it perfectly along with the long-since well-schooled Blunstone.
The two Zombies also performed their 1965 single ”I Want You Back Again” (Argent noting that they had never bothered to play it live until Tom Petty covered it), and their cover of the Gershwins’ “Summertime”—the first song they ever recorded. While Argent sacrificed his songs from his Argent group period, Blunstone offered “Old And Wise,” the 1983 hit he sang for the Alan Parsons Project, and his solo 1972 U.K. hit “I Don’t Believe In Miracles,” which showcased one of the most glorious voices in rock ‘n’ roll and exuded a relaxed joy of singing on a par with Tony Bennett.
And he offered a three-part explanation for that supernatural vocal quality, one that surely benefited the students from the Royal Academy that he said were in the audience, while no doubt baffling everyone else--but in a good way.
“There may be some ladies in the audience who know where the pelvic floor is,” he said, then gambled, “I bet there aren’t very many men who do.”
Blunstone then related that among the “voice tricks” he learned long ago from his singing teacher was “lifting from your pelvic floor,” or putting it plainly, “singing from your ass!”
A second technique he passed on was projecting one’s voice from the back of one’s neck. But the third trick, presented here in modified form, had been directed solely at female vocalists, though presumably it had some relevant male application: “Breasts over shoulders, girls!”
And while not quite as instructive, an Argent-shared observation was no less meaningful.
Noting the “gratifying experience” of recording Breathe Out, Breathe In some 18 months ago, Argent said that when he and Blunstone reformed The Zombies back in 2001 (initially as Blunstone & Argent), they “never came back to make a buck,” and “had to subsidize ourselves the first couple years” of touring.
Argent then invoked Duke Ellington, who likewise kept his band together for the sake of creating beautiful music--no matter the reward or cost. The Ellington comparison wasn’t at all a reach, and Argent concluded it by extolling The Zombies’ “continuing the creative process” by performing and writing new material.
They finished with “She’s Not There,” the duo format serving to show how significant Argent’s backup vocals are in relation to Blunstone’s leads. The “Any Other Way” clip was then premiered, and featured gorgeous black-and-white performance footage from the full Zombies band.
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