By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Live Review: The Zombies with Bruce Sudano – Bilheimer Capitol Theatre, April 5, 2022
OK, right off the bat, I am biased. I love The Zombies. The Odessey and Oracle is one of my favorite albums. The music is symbolic of my “Wonder Years” childhood in Metro Detroit which included singing along to the AM radio in the Buick Riviera. Pure joy.
Rock At Night last saw The Zombies in February 2019 before their long overdue induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We intended to see them in 2020 but the dreaded COVID pandemic put the kibosh on that. Again, the year 2021 proved to be a wash since the tour was again postponed till 2022. Finally, the band kicked off the Life Is A Merry-Go-Round Tour in Orlando on April 1st.
Entering the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on April 5th, we were greeted by a sign that noted photography, including cell phones, was prohibited. Even Baby Boomers have fallen into the habit of cell phone raising during an evening’s performance by viewing the concert through a glass screen rather than absorbing a live performance. Walking into the venue I noticed many patrons wearing The Zombies t-shirts and even an “Induct Tommy James Into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” t-shirt on a woman.
The evening began with singer/songwriter Bruce Sudano on stage with an acoustic guitar, accompanied by a fellow musician on an electric guitar. Rock At Night reviewed his recent release Ode to a Nightingale so I somewhat familiar with him. What I did not know is his very rich history in the music industry, his very thoughtful and sincere demeanor, and the depth and authenticity of his music. Honestly, I was blown away.
Sudano played snippets of his catalog of music, working his way from the past to the present, as if creating a musical autobiography. He played “Ball of Fire” which he co-wrote with Tommy James and the very familiar “Tighter, Tighter” when he was a member of the Brooklyn band Alive ‘N Kickin.
He segued into a heartwarming story of meeting a “girl who had just come from Germany” whom he began a collaboration with while in the band Brooklyn Dreams. Saying “this was originally written on acoustic” he began singing “Bad Girls” which he co-wrote with his collaborator and wife of 32 years, Donna Summer. An audible gasp was heard in the audience. He explained after she passed in 2012 he wondered, “Can I love again? Should I love again?” before singing a song about unexpectedly finding love again.
More nostalgia ensued with songs like “Back in the Neighborhood” and “Coney Island”, which eventually melded into “Hang on Sloopy” and “Twist and Shout”, which had the audience clapping and singing along. He ended with a self-described “road song” which had the audience chuckling at the line, “There’s a girl at the bar half my age.”
After a short intermission, The Zombies came out on stage performing “Moving On” and “I Want You Back Again”. Between songs, original members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone told anecdotes and backstories to songs, which added to the intimacy of the evening. Describing a B-side song written by Chris White that was “made famous by the people” and had “three simple words” the band broke into “I Love You”.
Blunstone explained the band had not performed in two years but continued writing music and will be releasing a new album soon. He says, “We’re going to perform songs we have never performed live and it’s from the new album.” Explaining the recorded versions are fleshed out with strings, the band performed “Different Game” and the pretty piano-driven ballad “You Could Be My Love.”
There was a lot of chair dancing going on across the aisle when “Tell Her No” was performed. While Argent had a minor technical problem with his ear monitor, Blunstone filled the gap saying, “We’ve been making records for 60 years. We’ve also played with others like Rod played with The Who and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I played jingles and was flown to America to film a commercial.”
Blunstone relayed an amusing story of flying across the pond to sing the line “A time for the season of Noxema.” However, the advertising company urged him to pronounce the word ‘Noxema’ with an American accent. For him, it was a “pay day” and ironic they would fly a Brit across the pond to “sing in an American accent.”
Blunstone continued with quips saying, “When we recorded Odessey and Oracle, Alan Parsons was the Assistant Engineer at Abbey Road Studios.” He became good friends with Parsons and recorded a song on his album Eye in the Sky. He then broke into an ethereal version of “Old and Wise”. Honestly, the 2 ½ year rest was good for him because his voice was as exquisite and velvety as it was decades earlier. Actually, all evening I was in awe of his voice and the tightness of the band, as if the hiatus never happened. Steve Rodford was perfect on drums and Tom Toomey added to the harmonies, especially in “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” Søren Koch has big shoes to fill after the passing of Jim Rodford, but he definitely held down the bass.
Argent explained how he and Chris White were frustrated with the recordings they were doing in the sixties. He recalled how management in those days cut lucrative deals in favor of themselves. The Zombies were “ripped off to the tune of 2M GBP—even with all the #1 records in the states and headlining tours. The band basically broke even.”
Argent says, “We wanted to produce something the way we wanted it to sound. We were broken up by the time ‘Time of the Season’ was released and it was a DJ in Idaho who was responsible for creating a ground swell.” The band performed five beloved songs from The Odessey and Oracle, beginning with “Care of Cell 44” and continuing with “This Will Be Our Year”, “A Rose for Emily”, “I Want Her and She Wants Me”, and finally “Time of the Season.” After this classic medley and Argent’s riveting solo on the organ, which included a bit of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, the crowd rose to their feet and applauded.
The room was rocking with “Merry Go Round” and a new tune “Run Away for All My Life” before full dancing in the aisle pandemonium and fist raising to “Hold Your Head Up”. Argent reminded the audience to sing “Hold your head up, woman” and not “Whoa!” as most people believed the lyrics to be. This anthemic song totally embodies female empowerment.
Ending the evening with “She’s Not There” and the sweet croon “The Way I Feel Inside” capped off a perfect evening—and well worth the wait. Apparently a younger generation has discovered them thanks to Schitt’s Creek’s using “This Will Be Our Year” in its finale. When I told a 26-year-old Rock At Night correspondent I was going to see The Zombies, she squealed, “Ohhh. ‘Time of the Season’!”
If you have never seen The Zombies, do yourself a favor. See them. And, take the kids or grandkids.
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