Concert review: Moody Blues age gracefully since the early 'Days'
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One scenario for The Moody Blues 45th anniversary tour of "Days of Future Passed" was a full-on tribute to that classic album that would have required an assist from the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Maybe next time. On Monday night, the pioneering British rock band was a few blocks away at the Benedum rocking through a mostly best-of set as a leaner seven-piece unit with double drummers and two keyboards to provide the orchestral sound.
When the Moody Blues went progressive rock around 1967, it not only set the band apart from the pack, but also it afforded the Moodies the opportunity to age gracefully with a more stately style of music. As a result, the band likely didn't sound much different at the Benedum than it did at the Arena in the '70s, other than the musicianship being more accomplished and the sound system better.
The Moodies had a fitting opener in "Gemini Dream," with Justin Hayward singing, "long time no see." It's been a few years since the band came around, but his vocals, like his smooth hair, seemed locked in time, even on challenging songs like "Tuesday Afternoon." Co-frontman and bassist Jon Lodge was right in step as he demonstrated early on with "Stepping in a Slide Zone," a song that got the fog machine revved up and the crowd on its feet.
The core membership, which includes drummer/poet/humorist Graeme Edge, made some excellent hires. On each song there were four singers soaring on harmony, including two remarkable female vocalists -- Julie Ragins and Norda Mullen -- who also added guitar, keys, percussion and the all-important flute.
Along with his nearly pitch-perfect vocals, Mr. Hayward charged the songs with clean guitar lines and crisp solos. He also can go distorted and psychedelic, as he did on the driving "Days" tune "Peak Hour" and "The Story in Your Eyes," one of the evening's most beautiful walls of sound.
There was a marked contrast between those headier old songs and more prosaic, latter-day ones like 1991's "Say It With Love" and 1988's "I Know You're Out There Somewhere." Fortunately, those were kept to a minimum, while the band favored old hits and such deep album tracks as the dreamy "Isn't Life Strange" and Mr. Edge's rollicking "Higher and Higher," complete with step-dancing.
The second set built nicely to the band's hardest rocker, "I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)," the song that broke the band in the States, "Question," and the one that sealed the deal, "Nights in White Satin," which was given the full regal work-up, to the wild delight of the crowd.
The Moody Blues were never the coolest band in the world, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, surprisingly enough, hasn't come knocking, but 40-some years down the road, it's certainly sounding better than most bands that age.
First Published April 3, 2012 12:00 am