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The Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed Live

The Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed Live
John Kelman By

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The Moody Blues
Days of Future Passed Live
Eagle Vision
2018

For an album that was, according to surviving members of the Moody Blues (guitarist/vocalist Justin Hayward, bassist/vocalist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge), recorded in a mere seven days, Days of Future Passed (Deram, 1967) remains one of the early masterpieces of progressive rock, in addition to becoming a relatively constant (and big) seller.

There may, however, be a couple of myths behind the reality of its origin. With session dates taking place between May 9 and November 3, 1967 and the album released (as could almost never happen today) just a week later, it's unlikely that it was actually recorded in just seven days during that timeframe. Ditto, the group's assertion that its record label (Deram), looking to spotlight its use of the latest in recording technology ("Deramic Sound"), suggested that the group desert its R&B roots to record an adaptation of Dvořák's "Symphony No. 9," in collaboration with the London Festival Orchestra. Rather than pursuing this direction, however, the group (initially not informing the label) decided to continue work on a new, original stage show, its music significantly changed from the style of its 1965 debut, The Magnificent Moodies (Decca), thanks to the recruitment of Justin Hayward (guitar, vocals) and John Lodge (bass, vocals). This story, not emerging until the late '70s, has yet to be proven.

Still, irrespective of its origins, Days of Future Passed's combination of songs contributed by all five members of the band, including founding members Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals), Ray Thomas (flute, vocals) and Graeme Edge (drums, spoken word), has remained a timeless classic. Barring a couple of songs from the album, however, it has never been performed in its entirety—even in 1992, when the band performed a 25th anniversary concert with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, ultimately released as 1993's A Night at Red Rocks.

All that changed when remaining band members Hayward, Lodge and Edge hit the road in 2017 for a fiftieth anniversary North American tour, where the Moody Blues finally performed Days of Future Passed in its entirety, albeit largely without a live orchestra. Still, with a dry run collaboration with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl under its belt from June 17, 2017, the band landed at Toronto, Canada's Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, for a two-night run where, as with the rest of the tour, the band delivered a first set of hits from across its career, followed by a second set where Days of Future Passed was performed, but this time in collaboration with the Toronto World Festival Orchestra. For those unable to attend these shows (and, for that matter, those who did), Days of Future Passed Live is a vital document of both sets, complete with two encores, available in a variety of formats including two-CD set, two-LP vinyl and single-disc Blu Ray and DVD video formats.

The challenge of putting on such an ambitious performance went beyond the obvious tasks of getting an orchestra rehearsed, creating a compelling visual experience and putting together the audio and video crew required to commit the show as a permanent document. With the original album's massive success unforeseen by both the label and band, Peter Knight's original orchestral scores were long gone, so musical director/conductor Eliot Davis was recruited, along with Pete Long, to recreate Knight's score for these first-time live performances.

The first set draws upon music that's surprisingly light on the group's "classic seven," The back-to-back septet including, in addition to Days of Future Passed, 1968's In Search of the Lost Chord, 1969's On the Threshold of a Dream and To Our Children's Children's Children, 1970's A Question of Balance, 1971's Every Good Boy Deserved Favour and 1972's Seventh Sojourn, all released before a five-year break when every band member released one or more solo albums with varying degrees of quality and commercial success.

In fact, only Lodge's rocking set-opener, "I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)," and elegant ballad, "Isn't Life Strange" and Hayward's bright "The Story in Your Eyes," along with the two encores (the guitarist's "Question" and bassist's anthemic "Ride My See-Saw") come from the band's most acclaimed septet of albums, specifically Seventh Sojourn, Every Good Boy, Question of Balance and Lost Chord. That Threshold and Children's Children are entirely overlooked is a shame but, in keeping with the first set's modus operandi of hits, is fair enough, since neither album yielded any significantly performing singles for the group.

Meanwhile, further hits are culled from subsequent albums recorded following the group's five-year hiatus, including Octave (Lodge's curious blend of the symphonic and fast-paced, "Steppin' in a Slide Zone"), 1981's Long Distance Voyager (Hayward's similar mix on "The Voice" and Lodge's balladic "Nervous"), 1986's The Other Side of Life (Hayward's folk-rock-informed "Your Wildest Dream"), 1988's Sur La Mer Hayward's synth-pop-laden " I Know You're Out There Somewhere") and 1991's Keys of the Kingdom (Hayward's propulsive anthem, "Say It With Love"). A curious but true fact: of the eleven hits delivered in the first set and encore, a full eight are, excluding albums that included spoken word intro tracks, album openers. While placing singles at the start of an album was often the "done" thing in the '60s and '70s, it's clearly a habit that the Moody Blues carried on with throughout its entire career.

Pinder left the group after the Octave sessions, and was replaced by ex-Refugee/Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz, who gigged and recorded with the group from the Octave tour through to Keys of the Kingdom. Thomas participated on every studio recording through to Strange Days, but ongoing health issues often kept him off the road, with the flautist/vocalist passing, sadly, in January of this year, age 76. And so, Hayward, Lodge and Edge are joined, on Days of Future Passed Live, by four additional musicians who are all, with the exception drummer/percussionist Billy Ashbaugh, multi-instrumentalists who bring a combination of keyboards, additional guitars, flute, saxophone and backing vocals to maintain the Moody Blues sound.

The 51-minute first set goes by almost in a flash, despite being well-paced between up-tempo tunes and the balladic romanticism that became a band signature when Hayward and Lodge joined the group. For obvious reasons, there are no Thomas songs that the recently deceased Moody originally sang (though, again following the "hits" MO, none of his songs were actually hits), but overall the performances are as captivating as they were when they first appeared throughout the band's career. Lodge is the more animated and outgoing of the three remaining Moodies, though there are a lot of cut-away shots to Edge, happily singing along to the songs despite not actually contributing any vocals to the show. The large rear projection screen provides a combination of crisp animated imagery and pictures of members of the band at various points throughout its 50-plus year run.

Flautist/percussionist/guitarist/vocalist Norda Mullen is especially notable amongst the four "non-Moodies" enlisted for the tour, delivering all of Thomas' signature lines while, at the same time, infusing them with enough variations to reflect some hints of her own musical personality. But that said, Mullen, Ashbaugh, keyboardist/percussionist/guitarist/saxophonist/vocalist Julie Ragins and keyboardist/vocalist Alan Hewitt are absolutely support musicians, largely kept out of the spotlights focused on Edge, Lodge and Hayward.

Overall, Hayward and Lodge are in good voice for men in their early seventies. The bassist struggles a bit for some of the high notes during the opening "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)," though he definitely recovers as the show progresses. While Hayward hasn't evolved much as a guitarist, he remains a perfect fit for the Moodies, whether contributing fuzz-toned solos or gently strummed acoustic guitar. Lodge, never particularly renowned as a bassist, may not be any more of a virtuoso than Hayward, but his tone and ability to ground every song makes him equally ideal for a group for whom instrumental mastery was never really the point, anyway. Instead, Hayward, Lodge and Edge (who may require some additional kit support from Ashbaugh as he occupies the south side of his eighth decade, but still manages to joyously deliver the goods throughout) have always been more about song and color.

The Moody Blues have, in fact, long been placed under the progressive rock rubric, but the group's focus has always been more about songwriting over instrumental acumen, for the most part eschewing the more grandiose trappings of bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. If anything, the Moody Blues have always been closer in approach to Genesis, though that band managed to balance the importance of songwriting with an ear towards the more complex underpinnings of many of its progressive rock peers. Still, even the progression of Genesis and the Moody Blues' careers has been similar, with an increasing emphasis on pop music as both bands entered the 1980s, even if the Moodies retained their pastoral, peace-and-love ethos while Genesis deserted much of what made it so unique in the first place.

As successful as the first set is as a recap of the band's major hits, it's the second set performance of Days of Future Passed, start to finish, that gives this Moody Blues document an important place in its discography/filmography. This isn't the first time the Moodies have collaborated with orchestras; they also did so during Days of Future Passed's 25th anniversary year, documented on A Night at Red Rocks, not to mention a 1997 Birmingham performance released, for the first time, on 2013's Timeless Flight 17-disc box set. But even so, only three pieces from Days of Future Passed were played at the Red Rocks show, which was ultimately reissued in full, in both audio and video formats, a decade later.

Here, given new life with some contemporary alterations and expansions, the orchestral sections are, for the first time, performed alongside the band's songs. Overall, in many ways this slightly expanded performance betters the originals, despite Pinder and, especially, Thomas being sorely missed. Renowned actor Jeremy Irons appears as a recording on the video screen, delivering Pinder's opening and closing spoken word recitations, while Lodge handles Thomas' vocals on "Another Morning" and Hayward takes the flautist/vocalist's place on "Twilight Time."

Despite aspects of the original album feeling, timeless though the music is, a bit dated half century on, this 21st century performance also reflects the band's inevitable evolution, with "Twilight Time," in particular, rocking harder and with a more contemporary feel, all without losing the original's charm. The group flips the order of Hayward's evergreen "Nights in White Satin" and Edge and Knight's "Late Lament," so that the performance climaxes more appropriately with the band's biggest hit, though there is a brief orchestral piece, "The Night (finale)," that brings the set to a more appropriately orchestral conclusion. "Peak Hour" is another highlight of the set, with the accelerating double stops that lead from a rhythm section-less middle section into brief solo features for Hayward and keyboardist Hewitt, driven by a far more powerful drum pattern than the original.
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