The Zombies at the Saban Theater Beverly Hills
Reviewed by Anthony Servante
The GPS that took us from Chino Hills to Beverly Hills was full of crap. But I shut up and listened as the GPS voice directed us to the 101 Freeway to reach Wilshire Blvd, about six miles short of the Saban Theater, where The Zombies were playing. I would have taken the 10 Freeway to La Cienega Blvd and turned onto Wilshire, a few blocks from the venue. But the GPS was right in one regard: we arrived at 7:58 pm, one hour before the starting time for the concert. Plenty of time to find parking and huff and puff it to the theater.
The air on Wilshire was filled with the scent of rich, spicy barbecue sauce, coming from the Grill next door to the Saban. There was a hipster crowd inside drinking microbrews and nibbling on appetizers on tiny plates that could barely contain the baby back ribs. But I guess that was the idea--to make the servings look bigger. This was not the crowd for the concert. This was the crowd in search of a neighborhood to gentrify.
The crowd for the Zombies show were standing in two long lines: one to enter the venue; the other for the Will Call window. The line moved quickly. "Tickets for Anthony Servante," I said. The Asian twenty-something stared at me. "Left for me by Tom Toomey," I added. He went to the box marked "Tom Toomey" and pulled the envelope marked Anthony Servante. I checked the contents: two tickets and two back stage passes. Bingo.
Row L on the floor, seats 17 and 19. We were just off-center. The Saban Theater used to be a movie house and it showed. Gothic friezes and giant columns framed the stage. Tom Toomey was checking his guitars. Should I go over and say hello. No. The man is working. Getting his head into the concert 30 minutes away. He set down the guitar, looked around the stage, and walked off, stage left. My guest, my older brother, went for drinks and a snack. The lights blinked on and off, signaling the show would be starting in ten minutes. The lobby emptied and the theater seats filled to capacity. It was a sold out show. The balcony seating was about ten feet behind me, thirty feet overhead. I hate sitting under the balcony. Seen too many soccer disasters on TV. With my neurotic phobias in check, diet coke and popcorn in hand, my bro and I were ready for the show.
The lights dimmed. Uncle Joe Benson, noted Rock Radio personality, came on stage and explained the night's festivities. The current version of The Zombies would play first, visiting songs from their new LP, Still Got that Hunger (2015), old hits, plus songs from Argent and Colin Blunstone's solo careers. There'd be an intermission, and then The original line-up of The Zombies (minus guitarist Paul Atkinson who passed away in 2004) would play Odessey and Oracle (1968) in its entirety, note for note.
With that, The Zombies took the stage to a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd and opened with "I Love You", (1965), written by Chris White, who would be honored by both versions of the band for his many hit songs and talent. The opener showcased Colin's strong vocals and Rod Argent's jazzy keyboards. The next song, "Can't Nobody Love You", also from 1965, gave new guitarist Tom Toomey a chance to turn in an edgy rhythm and blues spin to the song. "I Want You Back Again" from 1968 rounded out the early years before The Zombies turned to their new LP, Still Got that Hunger, for a selection of songs that still echoed from that 60s Beat and showed that yesteryear's music still sounds relevant today. The hits "Tell Her No", "Hold Your Head Up", "Caroline Goodbye" (from Colin solo LP), "You Really Got a Hold on Me", and "She's Not There" charged up the echoes from the new LP with some real blasts from the 60s/70s. Argent reminded us that Chris White wrote "Hold Your Head Up", for he is often mistaken for being the writer, and that the lyrics are not "Hold your head up, whoa"; they're "Hold your head up, woman", an important distinction in this era when women should hold their heads high.
After a thirty minute intermission that I spent in a line that stretched from the restroom upstairs, down the long stairwell, and into the lobby, I made it back relieved in more ways than one just in time for the second act.
Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White, Hugh Grundy, Tom Toomey, Darian Sahanaja, Steve and Jim Rodford, and Vivienne Boucherat comprised the reassembling of the original band and guest members. But, to be clear, the extra players were necessary to capture what Uncle Bob had promised earlier, that "Odessey and Oracle" would be played in its entirety, NOTE FOR NOTE. And that's just what we got. Argent even used an antique pump organ from the first World War for "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)". It was a hypnotic 35 minutes, 12 songs, from jazzy to pop to psychedelic (before the word was even born), and, as promised, every note was played. To wrap things up, the bands (all members from both Zombie incarnations) joined for a no-holds barred version of "She's Not There", where each member of the band was instructed to add something to the song that was completely new and unique to this night's playing of the song. It was a magical rendition that had the standing crowd of oldsters and hipsters and former hippies singing along and swaying to the upbeat.
And then it was over. The bands gathered and bowed and departed.
The After Show
Tom Petty was in the house. Backstage was chaos. People with backstage passes were seated as the theater cleared and the crowd of fans snapping selfies with Petty and The Zombies band members were herded to the lobby, which was more spacious and accommodating to the overflow of backstage invitees. As the crowd was moved from the backstage area to the seating area, I spotted Tom Toomey. When I got the chance, I introduced myself, told him that I couldn't wait to write the review for tonight's show, and had my guest take a picture with The Zombies' guitarist. I said goodnight and called it a night. It didn't look like order would be restored for at least another hour, or at least until Tom Petty left the building, which it didn't appear he planned to do anytime soon, so I hit the road.
Again, thank you to Tom Toomey for the tickets and backstage passes. This was a unique concert that could never be repeated in the same way again. I'm glad I was there. And may I be there again when The Zombies decide to make history once more.