The capacity crowd at Mesa’s Ikeda Theater willingly crammed into the extraordinary venue to lend their ears, hands – and eager but somewhat less than operatic voices – to The Moody Blues as the iconic rockers sailed into town for their “Highway 45 The Voyage Continues Tour.”
And a hearty voyage it was – of discovery and rediscovery – as long-time Moodies guitarist/vocalist Justin Hayward, bassist John Lodge, drummer Graeme Edge and their crack band served up all of their big, bigger and biggest hits as well as a number of lesser known but every bit as memorable tunes.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of their monumental album “Days of Future Passed,” and the band is touring the U.S.to commemorate its initial release. The record’s enduring popularity can be “blamed” in large part on the timeless smash “Nights in White Satin,” one of the biggest selling singles in history, hitting #1 three separate times on Billboard.
Given that they’ve sold a remarkable 70 million plus albums worldwide and garnered 14 platinum and gold discs, The Moodies could have just mailed it in. But to the delight and benefit of the sold out crowd, the postman never even rang once for the rock legends. And while it might be tempting to dismiss them as a band whose days of future have passed, the Mesa fans at the sold out show loudly begged to differ.
The Moodies opened the show with a fast-paced “Gemini Dream,” one of many sparkling numbers from the band’s chest of treasures. Given Hayward’s astonishingly ageless vocals, it was only fitting that the rock legends followed with “The Voice.” But Hayward’s howling guitar solos on “You and Me,” “Story In Your Eyes” and “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)” screamed confidently that he is much more than a “mere” accomplished vocalist.
As the talented singer in a rock and roll band sang, “And if you want the winds of change to blow about you” to the dutiful audience, there were undoubtedly many life-weary fans that were pondering the welcome relief of change – a healthy economy perhaps or even better, an end to societal anger. But there was one thing that they were likely hoping would never change – The Moodies’ ability to weave a matchless musical tapestry, balancing meaning and melody.
The ever-smiling Lodge kept pace with his long-time band mate, gliding into supercharged vocals on a rocking “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone” and laying down some funky bass lines on crowd favorite “Wildest Dreams.” He provided yet another concert high spot as he rhetorically asked the crowd, “Isn’t Life Strange.” The song’s remarkable pacing, thoughtful lyrics and symphonic musicianship – highlighted by Norda Mullen’s flute work – make it a Moodies must for any of their live shows.
Not surprisingly, one of the night’s many highlights was a fantastically bluesier, non-orchestrated rendition of “the song that wouldn’t leave,” “Nights In White Satin.” The song’s eternal popularity, as well as the universal appeal of every one of The Moodies’ seemingly endless list of hits, is perfectly understandable, owing to the band’s timeless themes of love and peace.
But even with the band’s timeless appeal, the never-ending popularity of the tune is beyond impressive. In an earlier interview, Edge chatted with me about the song’s remarkable run. Somewhat astoundingly, it didn’t astound Edge.
“Nothing about that song will surprise me anymore because it just keeps going and going and going. It just says a new thing to every generation.”
“I think Just (Hayward) came up with a good answer once when somebody asked him about it, how come it was spreading down through the generations. And he said ‘Well, the thing is, some of the people listening to it’ – obviously, the majority are our fans – but some of the younger people that are listenin’ ‘are the same age we were when we wrote it.’ So it’s kind of speakin’ to them in a little way.”
“Nights” was one of many tunes displaying the immense talents of flautist/rhythm guitarist Mullen, keyboardist Alan Hewitt, keyboardist Julie Ragins, and drummer Gordon Marshall. Along the way the band laid down a once-in-a-lifetime version of “Tuesday Afternoon” – on a Thursday evening no less – and with incomparable energy, served up the melodically perfect “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.”
While Edge, the Moodies’ resident poet, seemed content to conspicuously contribute to the action from the periphery throughout the evening, he drummed up some unforgettable moments. His thoughtful recitation of “Late Lament” to open the inimitable “Nights In White Satin” was the perfect lead in to the piece.
And The Moodies’ ageless senior statesman warmed the crowd with a delightful bit of storytelling before showing off his “rap skills” on “Higher And Higher.” The sprightly drummer celebrated his 71st birthday earlier this year and excitedly confessed to the fans that the “best thing about being 71 is you can date a girl 30 years younger than you without getting arrested.” Edge’s bemused band mates could only pick and grin as the impish percussionist gleefully danced about the stage, joined by the fans dancing in – and on – their seats.
That the band would enchant the rapt audience with their endless litany of million selling musical jewels was a given. But surprisingly, some of the night’s best surprises were the band’s lesser known gems. Hayward’s brilliantly delicate six-string work and fantastic harmonies shored up a remarkable, acoustic “Driftwood.” And Lodge’s outstanding vocals on the dazzlingly melodic “Nervous” had an ironically calming effect on the fans.
Near the sadly inevitable end of the exceptional show, Hayward furiously strummed his six-string to signal the frenetic beginning of “Question,” ponderously singing “Why do we never get an answer / When we’re knocking at the door / With a thousand million questions / About hate and death and war.”
And as the rapt fans listened to the matchless singer/songwriter they surely realized that even if only for a night, the answer to those million questions was The Moody Blues’ melodic message of harmony and peace.
Perhaps the prescient Hayward sang it best earlier in the evening, “And with just one truth I’ve found / You can’t go wrong / Wherever you go / Whatever you do / Whatever you say / Say, say, say / Say it with love.”