by The Spin
The Spin is definitely into spring and all the reasons it gives us to go outside: sunshine, chocolate bunnies, temperatures that are more, um, temperate. Spring also has its dark side, with Daylight Saving Time, tornado warnings and pollen. Have mercy, the pollen! As we clambered into the ol' War Memorial, we were feeling like Mother Nature had spent her afternoon ramming happy little trees up our nose. Thankfully, the antihistamines we washed down with an expensive beer took hold, and we could concentrate on The Ettes, whose power-slide of raucous garage rock (accent on the "rock") was in full swing as we found our seats.
The aforementioned Daylight Saving Time had our rock clocks in a tangle, but we weren't going to gripe about catching a dinnertime Ettes set. The trio was a classy presence on the WMA rostrum, clad head to toe in black. Coco Hames may not have a deep voice, but she is no less commanding for it, playing as sharp and smoky a leading lady as Wanda Jackson any day. Drummer Poni Silver wailed on her kit like it had been sassing her, and Jem Cohen wielded his vintage Vox bass like a sword, stabbing at the downbeats from under a cloak of octave fuzz. The Ettes were unfazed by the light crowd, thundering through numbers like "Excuse" and a gritty re-vamping of "Teeth," both from their most recent long-player, 2011's Wicked Will. All three of The Ettes have been hopping with side projects, from prepping a new music-and-film boutique and schooling us on Janus Films to designing fashion and making that old-timey rock 'n' roll, but we're ready for some more of their trademark grind any time they're ready to lay it on us.
Before we had much time to mingle with the familiar faces we noticed from the local rock scene, Night Beats emerged in a shimmering cloud of reverb and feedback, carrying on the legacy of classic Texas psych with an aggressive forward lean. A colleague remarked that this was exactly the sort of band that would have opened for The Zombies in the late '60s, but the boomer contingent in the audience wasn't having it; a steady stream of them put up the "Do Not Want!" face and took refuge in the lobby. Maybe an oil projector would have made them feel more at home? It would certainly fit the trio's potent mixture of R&B bent through a kaleidoscope. The remaining crowd matched the band's enthusiasm shout for shout on vintage garage gems like Satan's Breed's "Laugh Myself to My Grave," as well as fiery originals like closer "Puppet on a String."
We approached The Zombies' set with some trepidation. While there are many shades of gray, shows by players who have been on the road for five decades often fall into one of two categories: on the one hand, rocking blowouts, and on the other, PBS My Generation specials, where you're mostly happy that the artist is still alive. From the opening notes of "I Love You," it was clear that The Zombies were aiming square for the former.
Colin Blunstone's airy tenor was as strong as ever, without any electronic assistance. He's never been a shouter, which may partly explain how he's kept his voice, but he didn't hold back an ounce. Rod Argent played Joe Cool at the keyboard, ripping solos with one hand held theatrically behind his back. The rest of the band dug in with a gusto that you don't get from a group going through the motions. Bassman Jim Rodford may have looked a little dated by playing a headless bass and pointing at his bandmates after every solo, but we can't argue much with his sentiment; though there may have been a few too many for our taste, those solos kicked ass.
Not every number went over so well; while delivered reverently, "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" broke no new ground, and "Old and Wise" — a cut from Alan Parsons' Eye in the Sky on which Blunstone sang — suffered mostly because the original was a pale imitation of The Zombies' style. Songs from the group's latest, Breathe Out, Breathe In, trade on old-school Zombies chops and flair, but the classics were the biggest hit with both the older and younger portions of the audience. The Odessey and Oracle segment slayed, despite a comical attempt to get the audience to clap on the off-beat during "Time of the Season."
As the encore "Summertime" drew to a close, we put faces to the voices that had been squealing and gushing over the show from the seats behind us. We suspected they had come of age during The Zombies' first renaissance, when The Jam's Paul Weller championed Odessey in the early '80s, but we were wrong — The Zombies were old enough to be these kids' grandparents, and still serve as an inspiration! Who among our contemporary crop of heroes have that kind of staying power? Only time will tell.