They were there and the time was right, to rock and roll all through the n-n-n-n-night.
England’s Moody Blues returned to Cleveland Sunday evening for a pitch-perfect classic rock review that capped a banner North Coast day. A victorious afternoon saw the much-maligned Browns defeating the Bengals on the other side of the Cuyahoga and the Indians clinching a playoff berth. The 70-degree temp lasted through show time, with only a sprinkle wetting pedestrians at intermission.
The Moodies are on the road in behind their new compendium Timeless Flight—a whopping, 17-disc box set whose audio and video files survey the band’s remarkable history (an abridged four-disc anthology is also available).
Chances are these guys would be touring with or without new product. Crafting and performing sublime, lasting art-rock for “our children’s children’s children” is just what they do.
Singer-guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge still guide the group, with anchorman drummer Graeme Edge occupying one of two DW kits onstage.
The band’s September 29th set started strong, with Hayward and co. dusting off a pair of hits from 1981’s Long Distance Voyager. The lively “Gemini Dream” greeted the pavilion crowd with its post-disco throb and infectious “make it work out” vocal hook, while “The Voice” took Hayward devotees “back to school” for a lesson in following one’s inner muse. Lodge fielded vocals on “Steppin’ in a Slide Zone,” (from 1978’s Octave) which saw fog pumped onstage to waft over the players and mingle with the lights for a nifty visual effect.
Hayward crooned on “You and Me,” (from 1972’s Seventh Sojourn), and if his warm, recognizable voice is merely very good instead of great these days, it’s still better than most, familiar, rich, and—at times—quite strong. His guitar skills aren’t diminished at all. The spindly-fingered Justin still bonds with his red Gibson ES-335 onstage, his left hand maneuvering effortlessly over its strings while his right picks, plucks, and strums—with the occasional pressure applied to the vibrato bar on the instrument’s patented Bigsby tailpiece. Hayward’s always boasted a wonderfully crisp, bright tone, and his (under-rated) guitar prowess warrants as much recognition as his songwriting chops.
Norda Mullen (who replaced original Moody Ray Thomas in 2003) broke out her flute for “Gypsy” and “Nervous,” the latter sung by a rumble-throated Lodge. The band’s other female touring member, Julie Ragins, dabbled on keys (Yamaha Motif) and delivered the first of several saxophone solos from a riser behind Mullen.
“Say It With Love” dipped into the Moodies’ mid-career offering Keys of the Kingdom, and was remarkably well-received for a tune overlooked upon its early 1990’s release. Both Mullen and Ragins wielded acoustic guitars as the band’s tripartite video screen displayed images of roses that complimented the lacquer on Hayward’s favorite Gibson. “Peak Hour” went way back—to 1967’s Days of Future Passed—and had Hayward swap the Gibson for a Fender Telecaster, whose strings he bent and twanged dexterously as keyboardist Alan Hewitt dialed up Moog and Hammond organ pastiches.
1988 radio staple “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” brought the audience to its feet and got people clapping along, Edge keeping pace with drummer Gordon Marshall while Mullen recreated Pat Moraz’s keyboard flourishes on flute. Lodge—a guy with so much built-in body rhythm that he probably sways even when standing around doing nothing—thumped his Fender while visiting folks seated at opposite ends of the stage up front. Rare was moment the bassist didn’t have a smile on his face; the musician accumulated karma points inciting fans with waves and eye-twinkles, drawing them deeper into the experience with hand gestures, twirls, and vertical thrusts of his bass. The Nautica Queen motored upriver near the end of the song, the dinner cruise returning passengers to port as the Moody girls thwacked tambourines in time with the tandem drummers.
Hayward strummed acoustic guitar on “Story in Your Eyes,” harkening back to 1971’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour before a twenty-minute intermission.
The second act commenced with Justin wearing a black shirt instead of blue (and brandishing a similarly dark acoustic) for ’86 hit “Wildest Dreams,” the screens sequencing a photo montage of the Moody men in their younger days. Mullen prefaced “Isn’t Life Strange” with another eloquent flute passage—but it was Marshall who literally stood out here, the drummer staying on his feet to thrash cymbals and drumheads with mallets, like a timpanist. Hayward used a sunburst 335 on old gem “Tuesday Afternoon,” his authoritative down-strokes and fluid licks reverberating into the night.
Edge came down front to introduce the 1969 track “Higher and Higher,” a cosmic cut inspired by Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
“Back then, my hair was brown and my teeth were white,” said the drummer (who is the band’s sole remaining member from its Magnificent Moodies / “Go Now” days). “Now my hair is white and my teeth are brown.”
The band’s resident comedian / poet laureate / St. Nick look-alike also joked that the band now supplements its diet with vitamins and herbal enhancers in lieu of the mind-expanding recreational chemicals of the ‘60s.
“It’s all still sex, drugs, and rock and roll!”
Graeme grooved with Mullen and even did a little tap / Irish dance bit before springing back up to his drum rostrum for a terrific percussive break near the end of the space song. “Other Side of Life” was accompanied by its 1986 music video, which—unlike the tune itself—hasn’t quite stood the test of time, marred by ghastly period fashions and a dystopian, Mad Max visual aesthetic that was all the rage in MTV’s heyday. Lodge sided on up to Hayward for the outro, their hands eking up the fret boards for a dynamic finish—and the bassist proving once again he truly belongs in that hallowed pantheon of melodic bassists whose numbers also include McCartney, Entwistle, Squire, and Jones.
“I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” followed band intros, Ragin’s sax meshing with Hewitt’s keys during the enthusiastic outro jam. Edge gave a mirror-ball illuminated reading of his 1967 tone poem “Late Lament” by way of lead-in to a dreamy, cinematic “Nights in White Satin.” Hayward propelled “Question” with vigorous strumming on a 12-string Guild acoustic guitar and lead the chorus of “oohs” with Mullen and Ragins filling in. The Lodge-penned “Ride My Seesaw” (from 1968’s In Search of the Lost Chord) kept everyone moving at their seats until the last.
It was a wonderful evening by any measure, and a truly inspired performance from an ensemble whose sexa- and septuagenarian core contingent have been at it for nearly half a century. The set lists, solos, and dramatic psychedelic / flower-powered folk rock had casual concertgoers saying, “I’d forgotten these guys had so many good songs,” and underscored the Moodies’ looong-overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.