'It isn't necessary to
imagine the world ending in fire or ice; there are two other possibilities,"
art-rocker Frank Zappa once said. "One is paperwork, and the other is
While I have often complained that nostalgia is the bane of great rock
'n' roll, there is a way for some veteran acts that are no longer in
their prime to revisit the past without evoking the scent of death.
Several years ago, Cheap Trick did a memorable run at Metro, where the
band performed its first four albums in their entirety on successive nights.
A short time later, Brian Wilson performed all of the Beach Boys' brilliant
"Pet Sounds"; his recent rendition of "Smile" was less successful, only
because that album is a lesser work.
Last year, legendary psychedelic rocker Arthur Lee and his new version of
Love played "Forever Changes" at the Park West, complete with strings and
horns, and it was a transcendent night. On Friday, the group returned to the
same venue to open for another reunited band from the '60s, the Zombies, and
while there were moments of brilliance, it was a much less satisfying
There is something about playing an entire classic album live that forces
a veteran band to become something more than an oldies act: The musicians
have to focus in order to sustain the mood of the era when they were at
their creative peak, and they must challenge themselves to play songs they
may never have rendered in concert before.
While Love gave us several tunes from "Forever Changes" on Friday, they
suffered from the lack of orchestration and context. Earlier songs such as
"Orange Skies" and "My Little Red Book" fared better, and the group provided
a pleasant surprise by reuniting with its original guitarist, the
still-fiery Johnny Echols, an African-American innovator who deserves to be
mentioned beside Jimi Hendrix. But the set never rose above the level of
pleasant and competent to become something extraordinary.
The Zombies were even more problematic. Founding members Colin Blunstone
and Rod Argent have discussed rendering 1968's timeless "Odessey and
Oracle," and they delivered passionate performances of a few of the album's
lesser-known songs, as well as the spectacular hit "Time of the Season."
Unfortunately, they mixed in even more material from their new "Out of the
Shadows" and assorted mediocre solo efforts, and these cheesy lounge-act
ditties sounded like soundtracks for bad TV commercials.
These lesser tunes -- which were occasionally extended with pointless
jams that found self-indulgent keyboardist Argent tossing in riffs from "God
Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Chicago" -- only served to undermine the
beauty and power of early hits such as "Tell Her No" and "She's Not There"
and the material from "Odessey and Oracle." What's worse, the classics were
preceded by shallow, self-important synopses of the band's history,
insulting an audience that had taken a $25 gamble to see whether the
musicians were still as good as they kept telling us they were back in the
They weren't, but they could have been -- Blunstone's voice in particular
is still a singularly amazing instrument -- if only they hadn't veered from
the script of the albums that made us love them in the first place.