Rob Zombie: Zombie Live (2007)

CD Review by Gregory S. Burkart
Recorded last year with Rob's down-and-dirty three piece band ? consisting of virtuoso guitarist John 5 (alias John Lowery), former Wednesday 13 bassist Piggy D (aka Matt Montgomery, replacing Rob ?Blasko? Nicholson on this tour, though I hear Rob's back in the band now) and Tommy Clufetos on the skins, this long-awaited first live concert recording from metal's main monster-man is a welcome treat for his fans, and I had a great time listening to it... aside from a couple of smallish but noteworthy disappointments.

First, I'd heard there was to be a DVD release coming out around the same time, as well as a collectible art book, but so far no dice. Word on the street says the rest of the package is coming out early next year, so I'll manage to muster up the patience along with the cash. More troubling, though, was the recording and production quality of this release, which did not quite live up to my expectations.

Of course I knew the meticulous layering and production wizardry that pervades Rob's studio releases would be moved to the background, due to the natural coarseness of a live sound system, and I took into account the absent visual aspects of his always-impressive theatrical shows (again, if they'd just put out that DVD, those elements would be restored... hint hint) but there was something different troubling me here.

For starters, the lead vocals seem to be placed further back in the mix than they should, making it seem as if I were listening from the cheap seats. Rob's voice is in good form, and his timing and expression are on the money, but their placement in this sonic environment steals some of their power; on a few occasions he's even smothered altogether by the instrumental mix. It may have been a matter of microphone positioning ? it's hard to tell having not been at this venue ? but for whatever reason Rob's vocals lack bite.

Second, I expected a little more elaboration on the well-known tunes ? say, a touch of crazed improvisation from John 5 (one of the most talented and unique rock guitarists working today) beyond the simple showboating heard in songs like ?Thunderkiss '65.? Some inventive twists with the standard horror movie samples and effects, instead of merely the ones we all expect to hear from the album cuts, would also have been welcome. ?Living Dead Girl,? for example, derives much of its gritty, lecherous edge from the inventive production style employed by Rob and producing partner Scott Humphrey, but played straight and unfiltered, the impact of the song is weakened somewhat. Maybe I'm still getting used to Rob's new stripped-down, raw rock style introduced in 2006's Educated Horses ? a style that still sounds thunderously huge (thankfully) but slightly less cinematic and flamboyant than its predecessors. I'm coming around to it, but it takes some adjustment.

Still, there's a lot to love here, and the band's set covers the full range of Zombie's solo career with all the expected mega-hits (?Never Gonna Stop,? ?Dragula? and ?Superbeast? to name a few), White Zombie-era classics like ?More Human Than Human?, the latest round of chart-busters from the newest album (?American Witch,? ?The Lords Of Salem?), and tie-in tunes for Rob's movies House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. But there's also some second-string and cult faves in there (?Demon Speeding,? ?Creatures Of The Wheel?), sure to please the true brethren.

Despite its flaws, I'm not knocking the overall evil pleasure of listing to this CD, as the quality of the music itself is top-notch. Rob and the gang are true artists and put on an unforgettable show, so for that reason I would consider this an essential component in any fan collection. It's just not quite the essence of a live performance I was hoping for... not that any recorded media can ever fully capture the explosive phantasmagoria of a Zombie show, but I'm hoping that DVD comes a little closer. Guess I'll have wait and see...