The Moody Blues has over four decades of songs to choose from, but they have been playing it pretty safe and consistent with its set list so far on their US tour. Saturday night in Elizabeth, Indiana, at the Horseshoe Casino Outdoor Concert Series stage, Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Graeme Edge, and company offered few set surprises. But they may have stunned some casual fans by proving that they are definitely a rock and roll band.
Yes, they played adult contemporary hits like Tuesday Afternoon, I Know You're Out There Somewhere, and Your Wildest Dreams, but even those were played a bit faster and with more urgency than the originals. Early in the show, a revved up version of Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time) left little doubt that despite the fact that Hayward, Lodge, and Edge are in their sixties, they can still rock like men half their age.
Higher and Higher, with Edge on lead vocals took on a whole new life live, transforming itself from a mellow studio track into a raucous rock and roll spectacle. The drama and musical culmination of Isn't Life Strange, which featured Lodge playing a double neck guitar/bass hybrid, was also a powerful musical statement.
All night on the screen behind the Moodies, photos of the band throughout the years were shown - mostly of the remaining three, but some included former members Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder, who helped formed the five-man nucleus of the band for many years. The screen was also used to show the video for The Other Side of Life, which played while the band performed the song. The same was done for I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band) which featured an old promotional performance of the song. There was something very poignant and interesting about the juxtaposition of these videos. You could see much younger versions of Hayward, Lodge, and Edge on screen, but in front of that screen, you saw them in person, much greyer than when they originally made the music. Yet, the songs still sounded good, which is not only testament to the songs themselves, but to the band's musicianship as well.
The band was augmented by four very capable musicians. Norda Mullen's flute work stood out. Without Thomas, the band still needed a flautist since the flute was vital in so many songs. Since Thomas' departure, she has filled in capably. Mullen not only shone on the flute solos, she also played a mean harmonica on an excellent version of Never Comes The Day. Keyboardist Alan Hewitt , keyboardist and backing vocalist Julie Ragins, and longtime percussionist Gordon Marshall, helped create the rich sound. Being a band so heavily entrenched with orchestration, it isn't easy to translate that from studio to stage, but for the most part it was a seamless transition. Keyboardist Hewitt did a good job of adding the strings-like effects throughout the evening. The only slight disappointment was the bass heavy mix all evening, but that wasn't the band's fault.
Other highlights included the opener The Voice, the lesser known Lean On Me Tonight off Keys to the Kingdom, and Question. When you think of how many thousands of times they've played Question and realize they still put their all into the song, it is, once again, testament to the song itself as well as the band's enduring passion and musicianship.
Although Hayward is often seen as the band's leader, it was John Lodge who played more to the crowd. He was all smiles all evening, waving and pointing at the crowd, giving thumbs up and showing a real enjoyment with what he was doing. You would have never known he'd played Ride My See-Saw so many times. Hayward was the consummate musician, playing both acoustic and electric guitar, and his effortless solo on I'm Just a Singer was exemplary of his cool demeanor and virtuosity. Edge stepped out from the drums for Higher and Higher, saying he'd just turned 69. He joked that he had gone on an online dating service but said he was rejected because they couldn't do carbon dating." He also spoke the stirring Late Lament poem off Days of Future Passed.
At the end of the evening, Lodge told the crowd good bye, adding "Take care and keep smiling." For Moody Blues fans in attendance, it won't be hard to keep smiling. They'll remember a solid show that didn't let them down, and solidified their opinion of a band that, while nearing retirement age, still punches the clock on stage, and punches with more fire power than many expected.