ARLINGTON — They weren’t like other British invasion acts. The Zombies were more mysterious than Herman’s Hermits and more ethereal than the Who. They were the band that lamented the lost girl of “She’s Not There,” and lasciviously asked, “Who’s Your Daddy?” on their hit “Time of the Season.” The Zombies even showed up in an Otto Preminger thriller.
The band only squeaked out three hits and two albums before its premature breakup 45 years ago. One of those albums, “Odessey and Oracle” (the title was misspelled by the cover artist), has climbed out of dusty obscurity and is now placed on the same pop pedestal as the Beach Boys’s “Pet Sounds” or “The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.”
“Odessey” is most likely the reason why the Zombies sold out its Sunday night show in a sweltering Regent Theatre. When the band, which included original members Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent , played five songs from the pristine “Odessey,” such as the sprightly “I Want Her She Wants Me,” the concert was elevated from yet another oldies show into a paean to beautiful songs that stubbornly refuse to age.
A crowd of Zombies-aged contemporaries who once listened to these songs on transistor radios did not Watusi along, but they occasionally rose for standing ovations of the band’s biggest hits and fidgeted through newer material.
Both lead singer Blunstone and singer/keyboardist Argent, along with a band of ace touring musicians, saturated these pristine songs with the combination of optimism and melancholy that helped make the album so wildly influential. “Care of Cell 44,” the most cheery song ever written about the release of a prison inmate, was deliciously sweet and gooey, like a Hershey’s bar left out too long in the sun. Blunstone’s voice was slightly more ragged than it was in 1967, but his smile was beaming and his nervous energy endearing.
While the Zombies actively recorded from 1962 to 1968, they have been reincarnated in one form or another for the past 20 years. At the Regent show, they made the risky move of playing five tracks from their 2011 album, “Breathe Out, Breathe In,” along with other non-Zombie tracks. The result was occasionally painful, like when Blunstone performed an overwrought 1980s Alan Parsons Project song “Old and Wise.” To their credit, the band members dug deep into the Zombies’ catalog, pulling out a cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which was recorded for its first album.
Strangely, the biggest failings were the hits. The youthful urgency and 3½-minute punch of Britpop standards “Tell Her No,” and “She’s Not There” were replaced by languid keyboards and showy guitar solos that drained these songs of their energy. Give them credit for reinvention of the classics, but what the audience wanted in these moments was a slice of their youth served with a side of sunshine pop and the “Hullabaloo” dancers.Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther