Here's a thing you notice, watching the Zombies live: Colin Blunstone seems to be having the time of his life.
Blunstone — the whispery, soulful voice on "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" and a dozen other pop classics of the 1960s — beamed throughout the band's appearance Monday at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., adding a glow to the intimate room.
You might be smiling, too, if you could sing like that, and if you had those songs to sing.
Besides, Blunstone wasn't the only one: The feeling was general, as the British band held the multigenerational audience rapt through a varied set of familiar Zombies hits, the R&B and Motown covers on which the band apprenticed, Blunstone's and keyboardist Rod Argent's post-1960s successes, and fine new material from the band's 2015 "Still Got That Hunger." From the Latinesque groove of "I Love You," now drenched in distortion, to the Spinal Tap theology of "God Gave Rock and Roll To You," there was joy throughout.
The Zombies are celebrating the 50th anniversary of "Odessey and Oracle," the stealth pop masterpiece that took decades to find an audience, but now features regularly on all-time album lists. There's a reissue with bonus tracks, a coffee table book, new lyric videos for all 12 songs and an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The surviving original members – Blunstone, Argent, bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy – reunited this year to tour the album around North America (guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004).
Monday, the current lineup – Blunstone, Argent, guitarist Tom Toomey, bass guitarist Jim Rodford, late of the Kinks, and his son, drummer Steve Rodford – played highlights from the album as one of several themed mini-sets.
After warming up on "I Love You," they launched into a cover of Solomon Burke's "Can't Nobody Love You," one of the R&B covers with which they filled out their sets as a gigging band in '60s England. They also played Little Anthony's "Goin' Out of My Head," Titus Turner's "Sticks and Stones," a medley joining Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" to Sam Cooke's "Bring it On Home to Me," and Bo Diddley's "Road Runner" – all Zombified with Blunstone's breathy soul and Argent's jazzy, electric keys.
The covers anchored the band's idiosyncratic original material to an older rock 'n' roll tradition, in the way the Rolling Stones pepper their sets with Chicago blues. It also had the charm of an accomplished band nodding to its influences – in the manner of a hypothetically reunited Beatles leaving room for "Twist and Shout" and "Please Mr. Postman."
There was a suite of new songs, on which the band sounds something like a British Steely Dan: "Moving On" and "Edge of the Rainbow," and Blunstone's solo song, "I Don't Believe in Miracles."
And then came the "Odessey" highlights: Satisfying, mostly faithful renderings of the jaunty prison letter "Care of Cell 44," the delicately interweaving melodies of "A Rose for Emily," the pop soul of "This Will Be Our Year" and the ever-otherworldy "Time of the Season" – the psychedelic masterwork that has appeared in so many 1960s-themed movies, TV shows and commercials that it has become a sort of shorthand for flower power.
The Zombies of 2017 are a tight unit, and organized to highlight Blunstone's voice and Argent's keys. The band stretched "Time of the Season" out to give Argent a couple of windows to fill with octave-spanning runs. "Hold Your Head Up," the thumping 1970s hit by Argent's post-Zombies combo Argent, became a "The End"-style jam, with Steve Rodford quoting Ringo's drum solo, Argent referencing Booker T.'s "Green Onions" and Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," and Toomey adding some tasteful shred.
For all the smiling, Blunstone called the evening bittersweet – it was the last of the band's current tour in North America. With the anniversary drawing to an end, the band plans to return "Odessey and Oracle" to its place as just one element of a strong and varied catalog, as it works on new music.