NYCB Theatre in Westbury
May 7, 2014
The Moody Blues is an English rock band that was among the first groups to fuse rock and pop with classical music. The band's 1967 album Days of Future Passed
(Derem Records, 1967) is considered by many to be the precursor to progressive rock and one of the classic albums of the rock era.
Although best known today for the lush psychedelic-era rock and classical fusion albums, the Moody Blues started out as an R&B combo during the early days of the British Invasion. Founded in Birmingham, England by Ray Thomas (harmonica, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals) the original band included Denny Laine (vocals, guitar), Graeme Edge (drums), and Clint Warwick (bass, vocals).
It was this version of the group that landed a recording contract with Decca Records. The group's second single "Go Now," was released in November of 1964 and featured Laine on vocals. The single charted in both England and the United States and was featured on the group's debut album, The Magnificent Moodies
(Decca Records, 1965). Unfortunately, this line-up was unable to replicate the success of "Go Now."
Ultimately, Warwick left the group in the spring of 1966, followed by Laine a few short months later. Warwick was succeeded by John Lodge, and in late 1966 singer/guitarist Justin Hayward replaced Laine. This new "classic" line-up took the band in a whole new direction, away from the R&B scene and more toward the new material being written by Pinder, and now Hayward, that were more folk-based and slightly psychedelic. It was at this time that Decca picked the band to create a rock version of Dvorák's "New World Symphony." The band managed to convince the label that they were better off creating their own concept album featuring a fusion of classical music orchestrations with rock and pop. The concept of this album would be a day's cycle of living. The result was Days of Future Passed
. And the rest is history. The Moody Blues have sold over 70 million albums worldwide and have been awarded 14 platinum and gold discs.
In early 2014, after 50 years, the Moody Blues still have the chops and the fan base to sell-out three consecutive nights at Westbury, NY's 2,800-seat NYCB Theatre. The band featured three long-time members dating back to the band's sixties and late-seventies/early-eighties heydaysJustin Hayward, John Lodge, and Graeme Edge. These three stalwarts were augmented by Norda Mullen on guitar, flute and vocals; Alan Hewitt on keyboards and vocals; Julie Ragins on keyboards, saxophone and vocals; and Gordon Marshall on drums.
Playing on this evening in the intimate venue configured with the rotating stage in its center, the seven musicians delivered a two-set, two-hour performance that began by leaning heavily on the group's latter era: "Gemini Dream" and "The Voice" (from the 1981 Threshold Records album Long Distance Voyager
) along with "Steppin' In a Slide Zone" from Octave
(Threshold Records, 1978). Quickly shifting gears, Hayward stepped out to croon "You and Me," from Seventh Sojourn
(Threshold Records, 1972). This was followed by the even older tune, "Gyspy."
"Say It With Love" dipped into the Moodies' early-nineties output. The song, from Keys of the Kingdom
(Polydor, 1991), was quite well received considering the fact that it was basically ignored by radio upon its release. Reaching back into the late 1960s, "Peak Hour" from Days of Future Passed
featured Hayward on a Fender Telecaster, twanging his way through the John Lodge-penned album track.
Set one ended with a return to the1980s with "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" from (Polydor, 1988), which brought the crowd to its feet dancing and bopping along in time to the beat, and then finally back to the band's first decade with "The Story In Your Eyes" (from the 1971 Threshold Records release Every Good Boy Deserves Favour). At the end of these songs, the stage lights were raised partially and it was announced that the band would return after a 20 minute intermission.
The second set began in earnest with "Wildest Dreams," and segued nicely into "Isn't Life Strange" (which showcased Gordon Marshall's skills, as the percussionist spun around on his feet, slapped the cymbals with sticks and delivered a virtuoso performance all by his lonesome) and "Tuesday Afternoon." Graeme Edge (who bears a striking likeness to Santa Claus) then took center stage and delivered a few one-liners about his age and told a gratuitous Viagra joke. To introduce "Higher And Higher," the opening number on To Our Children's Children's Children (Threshold Records, 1969) which he said was inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing, he quipped, "Back then, my hair was brown and my teeth were white. Now my hair is white and my teeth are brown."
The second set came to a close with "Driftwood," "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)" (which featured Julie Ragin's amazing sax and Alan Hewitt's rockin' keyboard work) and finally "Nights In White Satin." Prior to the band's signature hit, Edge recited "Late Lament" in his English aristocrat-meets- Boris Karloff voice as a lead-in to the lush, majestic, haunting, delicate and ethereal "Nights In White Satin."
The group then took a bow and headed off stage for an ever-so-brief moment, returning to wow the crowed with two more. The encores were "Question" featuring Hayward on 12-string guitar and the Lodge-penned anthem "Ride My See-Saw" from 1968's In Search of the Lost Chord (Threshold Records).
The evening was a blend of pop, folk rock and classical, orchestral melodies with a cosmic touch of psychedelia layered over sweet harmonies and a tasty backbeat that grabbed the listener and didn't let go. As the audience filed out of the arena into the cool Long Island air, every face I saw wore a smile.
Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon .