Live: "Backwards & Fowards Over The Years". The Zombies, Jazz Café.

As the aroma of elaborate stodge pummels the nostrils upon entrance, cascading down from the sterile balconies above the ambience within this slipshod Camden haunt is incontestably more Café than it is in any way Jazzy. The 'Jazz Café' represents a pseudo-plush, plastic-floored temple of nothingness geared toward a generic nondescription and on a night upon which Elvis Costello almost sells out the Royal Albert Hall and the impatiently awaiting here conglomerated stutter stilted qualms over a lack of programmes as Billy Ocean blares over the PA, it's one belonging to some remote aeon and a rather inspiring one at that. For The Zombies too are of distant epoch; perhaps a time when this NW heckhole may have been considered in some way chic. A London borough off any form of pace whether regarding music or modus vivendi; whatever, if this month's Camden Crawl fumbled for a palpable pulse Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent – both at the ripe ol' age of 66 – inject intrigue and energy into their psychedelic pop blowout whilst contemporaries may opt to bloat foreheads with botox and forearms with substance significantly more perilous. Certainly witnessing them right here; right now may accentuate an emphasis on the inescapability of withering with age – Argent later alludes to the passing of original guitarist Paul Atkinson – although The Zombies are doing so with dignity, grace, and some bloody great hits.
Granted; it's a slow start. Sticks And Stones and I Love You reek of the urea-soused seating and doddering blitheness inherently affiliated with cruise liner 'entertainment' and are greeted with the expressionless disinterest of they who glug down cheap, cringe-inducing booze. The mawkish nostalgia of Can't Nobody Love You is considerably rejigged and consequently rendered a rather energetic hock of sanguine balladry and, as their third track in five minutes, promotes this subjective impression of Blunstone, Argent et al. to the most impeccable of hotel lobby bands. Thumbs up all around, and with protracted outros and ornate instrumental fills abound slowly; steadily The Zombies awaken and hit their stride. Big figurative hands are extended to Floridian voyageurs in attendance as an Americanised schmaltz settles amid the psych. Blunstone's the prime purveyor of this cornball gump: his solo turn on I Believe In Miracles is inconceivably uncomfortable; like spectacularly grim Broadway fodder whilst a hammy, Status Quo-indebted cover of The Alan Parsons Project's Old And Wise cloys similarly. He's the closest we've come to our very own Neil Diamond, and it's rather distancing. However on this transporting voyage through 51 years, as they scurry "backwards and forwards over the years" certain reinterpretations hit rather more harmonious notes. Whether that be a bizarrely rambunctious take on Jimmy Ruffin's What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted; or the quasi-ritualistic reclaiming of Argent's own God Gave Rock And Roll To You that's almost as classical as it is 'classic rock'; or a similarly redeemed Hold Your Head Up that sounds like the stodgiest of arena-slaying Meatloaf as Jim Rodford's bass sinks in the stomachs of those scoffing upstairs like a seabed-bound vessel of the aforementioned variety, their seamless interweaving of their individual histories and of those around them then proves both informative and invigorating.
Yet this isn't purely a revisiting of eras now relatively antiquated; their Breathe Out, Breathe In LP of yesteryear received a number of what Argent brands "stunning reviews" which plaster the merch table in one of many between-song, disc jockey-styled burbles. Said reviews "shoved up" out of both pride and the substantiating of such claims, the Cuban lilt of Show Me the Way aptly befits the tropical yet ultimately cancerous mid-May climes beyond fogged windowpanes (another cover, this time of George Gershwin's timeless Summertime soon goes out to the rays of Vitamin D to have been splashed down upon these streets over the course of this afternoon) whilst Any Other Way pertains to a comparatively Hispanic, almost bossa nova sway. This stylistic infusion serves as the most discernible differentiation between ancient and newer, and it's a slew of singles from the former category that typify the dual songwriting directness of the lasting pairing of Blunstone and Argent. The swanky I Want You Back Again, the smoky Whenever You're Ready and the utterly sublime Tell Her No – the highlight of both tonight's sets and indeed one to better most of any show – provide said trilogy of superlative '65 singles.

Strong points then come thick and fast: whether that be a predictably joyous Time Of The Season that's preceded by what seems like a regurgitating of its Wikipedia page entry via Argent's bearded visage and proceded by what feels an ultimately essential twenty-minute breather, or Dave Grohl's beloved Care Of Cell 44 their lasting appeal becomes self-explanatory. For if superficially they may somewhat justify the designation opted for in place of Chatterley and the Gamekeepers (amongst others one may presuppose) then musically the elation they exude serves a contemporary relevance that speaks for itself. Argent's impetus therefore on who may have covered this and said that with regard to their back catalogue seems of alarming concern as, lamentably, their collectively deferential demeanour and obsessing over acceptance into a more concurrent way of thinking intimates an inhabiting of times past.
If Blunstone may be the villainous Diamond of the piece then Argent is the Brian Wilson of a band that, over two hours, can conceivably be esteemed as the British equivalent to The Beach Boys and although any anti-wrinkle endeavours embarked upon may have proven futile his voice is yet to age a day since '61. Albeit a feat flattened a little by his excessive referencing, it's a highly distinguished achievement to evoke any form of atmosphere in here and it's one that, with 51 years of activity scribed into their history, The Zombies dredge up effortlessly.