It’s 2018 and FINALLY, the Moody Blues are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A band is eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Doing the math, the Moody Blues have been waiting for 27 years, the first album having been released in July of 1965. Way too long for a group that has sold over 70 million albums worldwide, and earned 14 platinum and gold discs. To say that the Moody Blues are a vital part of rock and roll history, and the innovators in the prog-rock movement is an understatement.
The band played the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park Sunday Night, January 21, 2018, as part their latest tour celebrating 50 years of their iconic album, 1967’s “Days of Future Passed.” The disc was one of rock’s earliest concept albums and the first full-length recording pairing a rock band with a full orchestra – in this instance the London Festival Orchestra. The album is an undeniable classic and yielded two of the band’s biggest hits: “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.”
Although conceived to celebrate the album, this tour has become a bit of a victory lap for the band, having benefitted from the publicity that nomination and induction into the Rock Hall brings. However, the celebration is a bit tainted, having lost founding member Ray Thomas earlier this year to prostate cancer. With the remaining three members of the Moody Blues in their 70’s, their delayed induction into the hall is a stark reminder to us all to celebrate all that we hold dear. Time waits for no one and, to quote the album title of the night, not long before the days of our future pass.
Ray’s memory was in the house tonight, with several video montages projected onto the screen behind the stage over recordings of “Melancholy Man,” “Dear Diary,” and “For My Lady” to open and close the first set in his honor.
The evening was divided into two halves. The band played a set of filled with some of their greatest hits for the first half, followed by a re-enactment of the entire “Days of Future Passed” album, played in order.
The crowd buzzed with anticipation. As the house lights came down, the backing band took the stage and second drummer Billy Ashbaugh laid down a powerful 4/4 beat. Over the PA. the names of Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward, and John Lodge were announced, bringing the crowd to its feet. “They are . . . The Moody Blues!” As soon as Edge ascended the back riser and climbed behind his kit, the tempo increased and the familiar melodic riffs of “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” filled the arena.
Although you could hear the strain in their voices as they reached for the higher notes, Hayward and Lodge were in relatively fine form as they harmonized on the lyrics. They were supported by strong backing vocals from keyboardists Julie Ragins and Alan Hewitt and Flutist Norda Mullen, fleshing out the choral qualities that exist on the original recordings.
As the audience cheered, the orchestral sounds that open “The Voice” emanate from the stage and Hayward begins to sing. He is a stationary figure, for the most part, taking his place behind the mic stand and veering away only slightly while taking his guitar solos. Lodge played more of the role of the showman, decked out in black leather pants, stalking the stage, interacting with the audience, and assuming the traditional rock star poses. His lead vocals on “Steppin’ in a Slide Zone” were a bit stressed, but what he lacked in range was more than made up with energy and attitude.
All told, the first set contained seven of their most popular songs from seven different albums, highlighting the depth of their catalog. The audience responded appreciatively as each song registered, and I heard more than one person exclaim “I remember this song” as if they weren’t aware it belonged to the Moody Blues.
The set closed with a rowdy and slightly sped up version of “The Story in Your Eyes.” Hayward nailed the guitar solos and those in the crowd who were still seated rose to their feet as the song ended to show their loving appreciation.
The second set, devoted entirely to the “Days of Future Passed” album, opened with a video montage. Images of the earth as seen from space, Stonehenge and city nightscapes flashed on the screen while the taped orchestral music from the album filled the arena. The floating head of actor Jeremy Irons appeared and delivered the spoken words originally recited by founding Moody Blues keyboardist Mike Pinder. As the video images transitioned from night scenes to morning, the band took the stage and eased perfectly into “Dawn is a Feeling.”
This was to be the pattern for this set. The stage went dark while the recorded orchestral parts played overproduced video montages. As the orchestral parts finished, the stage lights would come back up and the band would play each of the eight live pieces in between.
The songs sounded tremendous, but as a live performance, the orchestral video breaks were a bit jarring and disjointed. It would have been nice to have a live orchestra playing these passages, as they did at a couple of stops early in this tour. Logistics, unfortunately, make this extremely difficult for a tour of this size.
The biggest audience response came on “Tuesday Afternoon” and a wonderful version of “Nights in White Satin” that brought the entire crowd to its feet. As the video of Jeremy Irons reciting the lines that precede this classic tune concludes, Hayward begins to strum his acoustic 12-string and approaches the mic. His vocal is nearly flawless and many in the crowd shriek in appreciation. Norda Mullen’s flute solo was note-for-note perfection delivered with feeling and a beautiful tribute to the Ray Thomas original.
They returned to close the evening with a rousing two-song encore. “Question” had the audience clapping and singing along, completely taking over vocal duties from Hayward at one point. But it was the rollicking show-closing “Ride My See-Saw” that really brought it home. The audience was on its feet and dancing along for the entire song. It was a powerful end to a beautiful evening of classic music, delivered by prog rock’s pioneers.