When your music draws heavily from influences that reach far beyond the audio realm, and your recorded output is designed to sound like an aural interpretation of a B-movie, then the live arena is the place where the sounds truly come to life. As a self-confessed Alice Cooper and KISS freak, it’s possible that those artists’ respective live albums, The Alice Cooper Show and Alive!, left an indelible mark on a young and impressionable Rob Zombie. So it was perhaps inevitable that he would eventually capture his own sound-clash carnival on tape, releasing it as Zombie Live on October 23, 2007.
Since Rob Zombie was already several albums deep into his solo career, with Hellbilly Deluxe, American Made Music To Strip By, The Sinister Urge, and Educated Horses under his belt, Zombie Live was so much more than an exercise in riding a wave of popularity. He’d already come up the hard way paying his dues for around a decade in his previous band, White Zombie, and ably carried the weight of their popularity when the time came to go it alone.
Recorded while touring Educated Horses, Rob Zombie’s first live album was captured over several nights at the 15,000-capacity DTE Energy Music Theater, just north of Detroit, Michigan. The fact that Zombie was able to pack out such a venue across multiple nights, at a time when the rock world was going ga-ga for the likes of My Chemical Romance, Foo Fighters, Muse, and Paramore, is a testament to his staying power. The US was still hungry for his unique, fist-pumping electro-metal.
The live album is an interesting prospect and one that can serve several purposes. It can be a sentimental keepsake for those who were at the show, available to relive every time it’s given a spin. It can also act as a starting point to an artist’s music, showcasing the best bits of their repertoire as a taster for anyone not yet sure if they’re willing to fully invest in an entire back catalog. But the question always remains: can the energy of a live show really be captured on disc?
But energy is what a Rob Zombie live show – and, indeed, his music – is all about, and somehow, with the fervor of a crowd in front of him, the recordings on Zombie Live reach beyond the confines of the disc, spilling out through the speakers and into the living room. The color and verve of his image and persona feels just as alive as seeing it in the flesh, with the cheers of the crowd serving to heighten the imagination even further. It’s like when you’re reading a book. Given the right sensory triggers, it’s as if your mind becomes free to fill in the blanks in the absence of visual reference – in this case with the intended Technicolor explosions of lasers, lights, and videos that the concertgoers get to experience.
Zombie Live opens with the militaristic call to action of “Sawdust In The Blood,” like the beginning of a bloodthirsty Spaghetti Western movie, and into the gyrating groove of “American Witch.” There’s a reason Zombie named an album American Made Music To Strip By, and it doesn’t just apply to the remixes contained on that disc – it’s a vibe that permeates throughout his catalog. And as much as it’s all wrapped up in horror imagery and B-movie references, dig a little deeper and there’s an underlying theme of hot rods and muscle cars that would make Zombie’s music as fitting for a speedway racetrack as it is a horror-house movie theatre, as demonstrated on “Demon Speeding.”
Rob Zombie has forged a music career out of making shock-rock sound sexy. Don’t believe it? Check out the sensual grind of “Living Dead Girl” alongside the pulsating bounce of “More Human Than Human” and the intoxicating fervor of “Dead Girl Superstar.” Even the seductive “House Of 1000 Corpses” poses an irresistible invitation to go to forbidden places. And it’s all wrapped up in a sinister cloak of deliciously brooding decadence.
Though Zombie Live was recorded as an aside to the Educated Horses tour, it’s not a live set that leans too heavily on that album, with only “Sawdust In The Blood,” “American Witch,” “Let It All Bleed Out,” “The Devil’s Rejects” and “Lords Of Salem” making an appearance from that release. Instead, Zombie Live is a broad overview of Rob Zombie’s entire career, combining 18 of the best tracks from his solo years (including “Demonoid Phenomenon,” “Superbeast” and “Dragula”) with rarely aired White Zombie classics (“Black Sunshine,” “Thunder Kiss ’65”). And while committing the sensory overload of a Rob Zombie live show to disc will never match up to the experience of attending the concert in person, the energy here resonates strongly enough for the power of your imagination to take you there.