The Twilight summer concert series at the Santa Monica Pier is one of the many reasons I love summer in southern California. It offers the chance to hear great music for free while witnessing the sights, sounds and smells of summer; the ocean breeze, hot dogs, popcorn, the Ferris wheel, the carousel, dog walkers, skateboarders, bicyclists; the bright lights and noise of the boardwalk games, under the sky pink with sunset.
If one needs a break from the music and the crowd, a quick escape down the stairs leads you to the beach; you can still hear the music in the distance while feeling the sand between your toes, and watching the waves advance and retreat in their endless cycle.
My husband and I made our way through the huge summer crowd Thursday night to see legendary 60’s British rock band, The Zombies. The Zombies nowadays consist of original members Colin Blunstone on lead vocals and keyboardist Rod Argent; they’ve also recruited bassist Jim Rodford (formerly of Argent and The Kinks), Rodford’s son Steve on drums, and session guitarist Tom Toomey.
We were late in arriving, and after first being told we couldn’t enter as “the pier was full,” made our way towards another entrance towards the back. We spent the remainder of the concert at stage right, with a view of Argent’s back and an occasional glimpse of Blunstone, as he would peer around and acknowledge our side of the stage. When we arrived, they were performing a few (probably newer) songs I didn’t recognize.
The sound mix was poor – the bass was too loud, and Blunstone’s vocals sounded muffled. They played beautifully, however, and Blunstone’s voice was powerful and pitch-perfect. The singer’s voice had a very different quality than the gentle, understated vocal he leant to such hits as “Time of The Season.” During this performance, he sang in a bombastic, almost Broadway-like vibrato; however, it was never overbearing or over-the-top, and worked well in this live setting.
Much to the crowd’s delight, they launched into an “Odessey & Oracle “mini-set within a set,” beginning with “A Rose For Emily.” Probably like much of the crowd, I’m a huge fan of the 1968 album (“Odyssey” was accidentally misspelled by the album cover artist) and consider it their crowning achievement. The next song was introduced with a story by Blunstone: Dave Grohl had recently given an interview, and was asked if there was one track that had changed his life. Grohl’s response was “Care of Cell 44,” the opening track on Odessey, a celebratory song about a lover’s release from prison (possibly metaphorical). They played a faithful version complete with full harmonies. Grohl’s name was mentioned again preceding “This Will Be Our Year,” as being covered by the Foo Fighters. “I Want Her, She Wants Me” came next, followed by their hit “Time of the Season.” The keyboard solo was extended several measures, as were most of the keyboard solos throughout the set (I can see how this might be tiring to some, but, being a keyboardist myself, I loved it).
Colin (or possibly Rod; from our vantage point, it was difficult to see who was speaking to the crowd) told the audience that, as much as they liked playing their old songs as well as obscure numbers, they needed to continue writing and recording new music. I respect and understand that sentiment; unfortunately, the song they played after this speech was a bluesy number that wasn’t very impressive. It was fortunately followed up by their infectious 1965 hit, “Tell Her No.” One of the highlights wasn’t a Zombies song at all, but the prog anthem recorded by Argent (Rod Argent’s 70’s band), “Hold Your Head Up.” The crowd sang along with the familiar chorus of this FM rock staple: “Hold your head up / hold your head high.” They ended the set with “She’s Not There,” from their 1965 album, Begin Here. (Not only am I a sucker for well-crafted 60’s pop with major-to-minor chord changes, this one happens to have my favorite keyboard solo of all time; it was extended in this performance, of course, for several measures).
Despite the lackluster sound quality, and the fact that it was just too crowded to get a decent view of the band, The Zombies’ performance Thursday night was among my favorite of the Twilight concerts I’ve seen in recent years. This was my first time seeing them; if you’re a Zombies fan and haven’t seen them yet, I encourage you to go see them while you still can.