Moody Blues Build A Time Machine At Bethel Woods 7-10-10
By Jason Dole

On Tuesday, some 16,000 party people descended on Bethel Woods for a sold-out show by the Dave Matthews Band. So you know what that means, right? Yep. I’m going to review last weekend’s Moody Blues show!

The reason for this is twofold. First – while I have nothing against DMB (a good band that brings pleasant vibes and also buys lots of veggies from local farmers), I’m not really a fan. Second, I had to work at the DMB show. Somebody’s got to sell T-shirts to the teeming masses! When I finally get a break at a huge show like that, I’m not about to drag my tired ass up to the top of the lawn to peek down at the party below. On July 10, however, I was at Bethel Woods for the music, and the Moodies delivered. Here’s my take:

The Lineup
Moody Blues fans are lucky that there are three remaining members from the band’s classic, creative peak (1967-72). There’s drummer/poet Graeme Edge; guitarist/lead singer Justin Hayward, and bassman/vocalist John Lodge. Not only are these three guys an integral part of the band’s sound then and now, but they were all key songwriters (and/or poet, in Edge’s case) on classic albums like Days of Future Passed, Question of Balance, In Search of the Lost Chord, Seventh Sojourn, and others.

What happened to the other two members from the “classic” lineup? After pioneering the use of Mellotron in rock & roll and playing keys for the Moody Blues, Mike Pinder retired from the spotlight in the late 70s. Founding member, vocalist, and flautist Ray Thomas stuck with the band until his retirement in 2002. Flautist Norda Mullen took over his parts at that time and has been with the band ever since.

…And so on. I counted eight people onstage as the Moody Blues. Some have been with the band for a while. If you want to learn more, I found a nifty chart explaining the Moody Blues lineup at Wikipedia.

The Songs
The Moody Blues have been doing more or less the same set of songs for the last couple of years (and they’ve been playing the same closing set since the early ‘70s!). They played a mix of stuff from their “hit” album Days of Future Passed (Nights in White Satin, Tuesday Afternoon) their classic psychedelic and progressive era (Story In Your Eyes, Question, Ride my See Saw, etc.) and their latter-day hits from ’78-’88 (The Voice, I know You’re Out There Somewhere, Wildest Dreams, Slide Zone).

The band kicked off with “The Voice” and slipped into the 1978 number “The Day We Meet Again,” which lends its title to the Moodies’ current tour. I was really getting into it as the band played “Tuesday Afternoon,” passed through “Never Comes the Day,” and wrapped up the first half of the show with “Peak Hour,” “I Know You’re Out There,” and “Story In Your Eyes”.

The Sound
What made this a Moody Blues show, apart from the songs? The first thing I noticed was Justin Hayward’s voice. That’s the voice of the Moody Blues, especially when paired with John Lodge on harmonies, and it still sounds great. It’s hard to say what he’s lost with age, if anything – perhaps a touch of his range and some nimbleness – but what he’s gained in experience contributes to a warmer, wiser performance.

”He wasn‘t at 100% of what he used to be, but he was pretty damn close,” remarks the Catskill Coyote, host of Audio/Visual on WJFF, talking with me after the show. A long time Moody Blues fan, the Coyote is as impressed as I was by Hayward‘s singing. “He was great. If that’s old, then getting old isn’t so bad!”

If Hayward’s voice is the old friend who welcomes you warmly when you visit your old home, his guitar playing was the friend who hasn’t grown up, drops in when you least expect it, and takes you for a wild night out on the town. The rest of the band seemed as eager to rock out, and that’s when John Lodge’s solid yet restless bass really popped out of the mix.

“The drummer was as crazy as I remember, the singer was as good as I remember, and the bass player was better than ever,” says the Coyote.

Yet for all the rocking, it was obvious that the Moody Blues are much better at the web-weaving and vibe-making of their quieter songs. I couldn’t help comparing the contemporary versions of the rocking numbers to the originals. But when the band got mellow and spacey, there was no looking back. There was only the moment they were creating live.

It’s like this final observation from the Catskill Coyote: “Wow! They still have got that mellow, powerful thing going on.”

The Rain
“This next song,” said Justin Hayward, “is called ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’”

“No,” yelled a guy on the lawn. “We’re wet!”

That was near the end of the show, and people on the lawn had been wet for a long time. The Moodies were barely two songs into the night when it began to rain. Pretty hard. I sheltered under one of the vending tents for a while. The rain let up a bit by “Tuesday Afternoon,” so I ran down to the lawn.

A couple songs later, the sprinkles grew to raindrops again. I put up a rickety cheap umbrella and tried to ignore the loud mouth woman on my left. The band was playing “Never Comes The Day,” and I really wanted to hear it. When I first heard the Moody Blues show announced back in March, this was one of the songs I played on the radio.

Then the rain picked up in intensity. Suddenly, the loudmouth was under my umbrella. “Can I share your umbrella?” she slurred. “If you can keep quiet,” I replied, as neutrally as possible. Well, she stayed quiet for about a minute then yelled “am I being quiet?”

Look, I’m a fan of lawn seats, I am, but they have their drawback. First, you have the fuddy-duddies who sit and sit and would refuse to stand even if Moses himself came back to life just to bust out a rippin’ solo on the Bethel Woods stage. At least those folks are trying to watch the show. It seems that, for everyone else, the music comes second or third in importance, just behind talking and drinking.

Then the rain really let loose. The band let loose at the same time, launching head first into “Peak Hour.” That’s when I let loose. I let go of my frustrations, gave my new loudmouth friend the umbrella, and rocked out in the drenching rain. Outside of “Nights in White Satin / Question,” it was the highlight of the show. This was my Woodstock moment.

Kiss of the Woodstock Spirit
People talk about the “Woodstock Spirit." I think the landscape, the atmosphere, and the sky above Bethel are as much part of that spirit as the music. It’s a big part of the vibe. I tell everyone I meet near Hurd Road – there’s no such thing as an un-amazing sunset there. Throw some people and some music on those fields, and it’s always a time-warp.

So, I guess the rain in the summer at Bethel Woods is just the big, sloppy kiss of the Woodstock Spirit. As soon as the rain hits, folks of all ages start getting flashbacks to Woodstock. I saw one group of young concertgoers, maybe six people, fleeing the grounds under a giant green tarp. Take them back 41 years, remove the nice stone walkways of Bethel Woods to reveal the red shale mud below, and those folks could have been in the movie.

Speaking of the Woodstock Spirit… despite no-smoking rules at Bethel Woods, I caught the scent of some Woodstock Spirit hovering around the crowd here and there. As clean, orderly, and family friendly as Bethel Woods is (and it really is), it’s reassuring that someone out there keeps the miniature anarchic torches of Woodstock burning. Literally. Whoever’s buried at the “Tomb of the Unknown Hippie” would be proud.

You know, this whole “Spirit" tangent isn’t just second-hand nostalgia. This is history coming home. You see, the Moody Blues were originally announced to perform at Woodstock. The band whose records some hippies awaited like prophets wait for the Word of God were almost at that watershed cultural event. It never happened. So, last weekend’s show was provided a bit of closure along with a tantalizing taste of what may have been. The band knew it.

“We thank you for waiting for 40 years,” said John Lodge near the end of the show.

A ‘Lament’ and ‘Question’
So maybe all nostalgia shows aren’t the same, not when you’re a fan. Or maybe not when it’s the Moody Blues. They always had a penchant for both the grandiose and the poignant. This serves them well when they’re playing a show at a venue renowned for it’s musical history. Or when you have people like one mother I met, bringing her 11-year-old son to see the Moodies for his first concert because her first concert had been a Moody Blues show. Or the woman who told me the whole show was a flood of memories, from her own youth through the time her children were young, concluding, “Now I have a new memory…”

“After 30-odd years,” she said “I finally got to see the Moody Blues perform and I was soaking wet and it was Bethel and it was incredible.”

Near the end of the show, Graeme Edge got up from behind his drum kit. The lights dimmed to the kind of twilight blue that drains the landscape of all its colors. He began to speak. The words he wrote when he was 26 years old held more meaning than ever for all those present:

…New mother picks up and suckles her son,

senior citizens wish they were young.

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,

removes the colours from our sight.

Red is grey and yellow white

but we decide which is right…

There isn’t much more to say. The Moodies worked their time-machine Magic at Bethel Woods last weekend. After that poem, they played “Nights in White Satin” and “Question” and it was tear-jerkingly gorgeous. Then they closed with “See Saw” I wish it had a little more punch, but at that point, who could complain?


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