Last Night: The Moody Blues at Hard Rock Live
The Moody Blues
Tuesday, March 25
Hard Rock Live
The Moody Blues created an indelible imprint in the annals of classic rock, having gained a generation’s eternal affection. After their initial incarnation as a blues band – and an early hit called “Go Now”– they morphed into the leading purveyors of late ‘60s psychedelia, drawing on subjects spanning intergalactic exploration to the search for spirituality. No wonder then that they found a liberated, free-spirited adolescent following, one that absorbed their sound with the pungent smell of herbal ingestion filling many a dorm room and eagerly turned the Moodies’ music into a late night soundtrack for lysergic adventure and substance-induced exploration.
Even now, their albums – Days of Future Passed, In Search of the Lost Chord and On the Threshold of a Dream -- and more specifically, classic rock staples such as “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Nights In White Satin,” and “Ride My Seesaw” remain mainstays on classic rock radio and vivid reminders of that more innocent era.
Forty years on, the band’s main mission is one of nostalgia, certainly not unusual considering the role their peers play nowadays. The Who, Jethro Tull, even the Stones, find themselves playing to hordes of aging baby boomers still clinging to their days of freewheeling experimentation. So it was no surprise that when their current tour brought them to Hard Rock, it was an older audience that anxiously awaited, eager to relive days of youthful indulgence before they were forced to succumb to jobs, families and the humdrum responsibilities that accompany a begrudging maturity. It was somewhat appropriate that one of the lines from the spoken-word prelude to “Nights in White Satin” -- the one that suggests “senior citizens wish they were young” – actually garnered a hint of appreciative applause.
Like most of their contemporaries, the Moodies’ current incarnation reflects a diminished rank and file. Keyboardist Mike Pinder has long-since departed, as has flautist Ray Thomas, reportedly due to declining health. That leaves chief singer, songwriter and guitarist Justin Hayward, bassist, vocalist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge to carry on the legacy. They’re ably assisted by four support musicians on dueling flutes, a second drum kit, keyboards, guitar, percussion and back-up vocals -- all ably filling out the band’s sound and making the absence of Pinder and Thomas that much less noticeable. The audience certainly didn’t seem to mind that it was newer recruits playing those key instrumental roles, according the more familiar tunes repeated standing ovations and the Moodies themselves displays of effusive appreciation.
To be sure, the concert got off to a somewhat shaky start, the first few songs – “Lovely To See You,” “Tuesday Afternoon” and a relatively obscure “Lean On Me (Tonight)” (plucked from a more obscure later album, Keys of the Kingdom) -- saddled with a turgid bass–heavy mix and somewhat plodding performances. Things began to click on the band’s fourth entry, the beautiful ballad “Never Comes The Day,” and from then on, the group’s trip back in time became the delightful journey all expected. Despite their penchant for mellow musings, the emphasis was on the more upbeat entries in their extensive catalogue, notably rousing renditions of “In Your Wildest Dreams,” “The Voice,” The Story in your Eyes,” “I’m Just A Singer in a Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Questions” and the obligatory encore, “Ride My See-Saw.”
As for the veteran members themselves, each seemed genuinely delighted at the adulation heaped on them by the crowd, lingering at length after the final number, an especially moving “Nights In White Satin,” to soak up the applause prior to exiting for the encore. Lodge, looking surprisingly svelte in black leather, was the most animated of the three, posturing and prancing about the stage in what seemed to be his designated role as group cheerleader. Hayward was in fine voice and played some adept lead guitar, strumming furiously on the aforementioned “Questions” while generally maintaining a reserved yet professional presence. Edge, portly, frosty-maned and the one who’s most clearly showing the physical toll of age (he jokingly introduced one song as having been recorded when his hair was brown and his teeth were white) did a fine job taking center-stage for his poetic intro to “Higher and Higher,” following it with a jaunty jig and a rousing workout on his tambourine. (Never mind that one of the back-up musicians seemed to be steadying him as he made his way down from the drum riser.
The juxtaposition between the Moody Blues of old and the band of today was made all the more obvious by projections on an overhead screen that were dominated by still images of the band in the heyday. A couple of the songs even featured video accompaniment by the band’s earlier incarnation, simultaneously performing the songs that were being sung on stage. Perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to illustrate the meaning of days of future passed. Or merely to suggest that indeed, the music is immortal.
Personal bias:The Moodys clearly retain the ability to reignite the smoke rings of the mind.
Random detail: Denny Laine, a major contributor to Paul McCartney’s post Beatles outfit, Wings, was a key player in the original Moody Blues line-up prior to their more successful incarnation
By the way: Justin and John don’t look like they’ve aged a day – ok, a year… Well, make that a decade.
– Lee Zimmerman