Imagine this: a world without concept albums. Strange thought, right? Especially considering concept albums are all the rage nowadays (and admittedly they have been for quite some time but c’mon, most kids think concept album and credit American Idiot or The Black Parade or even Beyonce’s take on a visual and conceptual album, Lemonade). Concept albums have a sense of unity — the collection becoming more about a theme, movement, narrative or any artistic media that becomes so much more than just a collection of songs. No one does it better than The Moody Blues who helped shape and define exactly what a concept album is with their release of Days Of Future Passed back in 1967, just months after The Beatles’ own Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
1967. Fifty years ago, The Moody Blues were perfecting the lush, cohesive song cycle and introduction to fusing together a rock band with a full orchestra (later to be credited as one of the first examples of ‘progressive rock’). They were a band ahead of their time, which leaves no surprise that fifty years later, The Moody Blues are still selling out venues and spending their summers celebrating the 50th anniversary of Days Of Future Passed on a full tour, which kicked off this month in California! They played two back-to-back evenings in Saratoga at The Mountain Winery for a trip back to when music was inexplicably great.
The 50th Anniversary Tour has been one in the making for quite some time. Back in 2015, bassist John Lodge publicly entertained the idea of bringing former band members back to the lineup in any capacity for a series of special shows — an idea that unfortunately seemed to be unable to make happen, but still goes to prove a truly impressive comprehension of the band’s thoughts, ideas and the consideration of what would make this worthy of a 50th year anniversary tour.
The sentiment is not one that is lost tonight. At only three days into The Moody Blues’ tour, there is a quick and obvious realization to just how special this tour truly is. As fans flood into the Mountain Winery’s beautiful seating, there is a hushed conversation amongst early-birds: “is there an opening band?” Of course, there isn’t. There is no need for one, not tonight. Instead, The Moody Blues played a two-hour, two-part, beautifully crafted set which perfectly reflected the band’s success and the album in celebration. It may have taken Days Of Future Passed approximately five years to reach the top of the charts — but little did they know then that this album would prove to be timeless for decades to come.
The Moody Blues kicked off the night with a daring challenge. The show opened with their high-energy, fun-loving “I’m Just A Singer.” The first half of the show is scattered with an amazing selection of some of the band’s most beloved hits. They jump around from the ’70’s, ’80’s and ’90’s as they perform songs off their albums of each respective decade: Prelude (1987), Sur La Mer (1988) and Keys Of The Kingdom (1991) an album began with their hit: “Say It With Love,” which when performed tonight, vocalist Justin Hayward doesn’t hold back the affection, paired with the hearts and peace signs floating on stage behind him. For a band that formed back in the psychedelic era — The Moody Blues have something to offer to everyone as they perfected the art of switching from synths and guitar riffs to orchestrated pieces and heavier sounding rock songs and everything in between made evident by their vast range of repertoire which they have no troubles flying through tonight.
“YEAH! Now we’re getting there! Take us back!” An excited fan screams as the band progresses into their track, “Nervous,” off their early ‘80s album, Long Distance Voyager. Bassist John Lodge can be seen dancing all around the stage before teasing flutist Norda Mullen — who replaced original flutist Ray Thomas quite some years ago and continues to encapsulate the beauty and uniqueness The Moody Blues are known for with having a rock and roll flute player — by mimicking a violinist as scores from an orchestra accompany the band’s set.
The Moody Blues continue to showcase the unusualness that has always distinctively set them apart, with a complex four-part choral vocal sound paired with a wailing falsetto surging to harmonies (thanks to Lodge’s strong falsetto range, which sounds just as good as it always has, and Hayward’s beautiful voice falling somewhere harmoniously just beneath it). As they perform one of their bigger hits, “Your Wildest Dreams,” for the first time there are several photos splayed across the screen behind them — photos of original members, of days on the road 50 years ago. Nostalgia. And it’s absolutely beautiful. As the crowd sings and dances along, there is a shared inside-look to the band’s life, which helps signify what is about to come. The emotion is nearly palpable as Hayward and Lodge trade off the spotlight on vocals, each of them unable to hide the gratitude and admiration on their faces. They perform beautifully, as the song’s lyrics loosely follow about ‘once upon a times’ and ‘I remembers,’ the old photos of their legacy and time as a band, the three original members expanding this special Anniversary tour to the two members not with them on stage… it is incredibly touching and unlike anything we’ve seen before. The band sing beautifully, too. They achieve their unique sound today with the help of drummer, Graeme Edge as well as Norda Mullen (flutist, guitarist, all around amazing musician), Julie Ragins (singer, keyboardist, saxophonist, amazing musician who also has her own duet project with husband, PEAR), second drummer Billy Ashbaugh (who has toured with several big artists – including Nsync!) and main keyboardist Alan Hewitt (big thanks to Shirley and Pamela for providing these names)!
The second half of the evening takes on Days as though fans are listening to it for the first time on their record player. The album, which was written as a concept of a day in the life in London, is a beautiful arrangement of songs with the beautiful symphonic presence and a build-up to what remains The Moodies’ signature song, “Nights In White Satin.”
The second act begins with the Days’ album art dispersing into a rainbow to an image of the world spinning. An orchestra piece is played as we travel around the world — images are shown of The Milky Way behind Stonehenge, to city skylines, starry skies and finally a black and white moon, preluding to the narrated words of “The Day Begins,” which the crowd booms awake to, reciting word-for-word: Cold hearted orb that rules the night, removed the colours from our sight, red is grey and yellow white, but we decide which is right and which is an illusion…
As the band takes the stage, it has been transformed, showing more than just pictures as it becomes a key element in the storytelling of a day in the life. The Moody Blues return on stage with no gimmicks, instead, they stand as blackened silhouettes in front of beautiful meadows and the rising sun, acoustic guitars in hand: “Dawn is a Feeling.”
An impatient (albeit, probably drunk… it is a winery, after all) crowd member yells “PLAY SOMETHING!” and almost as if on cue, the band erupts from “Another Morning” which displayed a busy London street with colorful panoramic shots of pedestrians speeding by, to the hard hitting “Peak Hour” where Hayward and Lodge both add in amazing solo guitar/bass riffs that probably shut up the ‘play something’ gentleman and more. The Moody Blues still have what it takes to rock ’n’ roll… but Days is a conceptual piece of art… and even a live performance, no, especially the live performance of the album in its entirety deserves to be treated as such. For the record: the band did this wonderfully, blending the downtime with their performance in a way that kept our attention and kept the majority of the crowd ooh and awwing at the beautiful scenery on-screen while bringing to life the interludes present in the album by the London Festival Orchestra.
There is no question that even the smallest detail was thoroughly thought-out as each of the songs have a perfectly accompanying visual behind them. There are marigolds and cattails swaying in the wind for the ‘Morning’s to deep purples, oranges, and reds for a time-lapse sunset over the ocean during “The Sunset” and primary colors whizzing over train tracks, giving an eery vibe for “Twilight Time.”
The narration — and which is an illusion? — booms again overhead, putting forth “Late Lament” over what the crowd has been waiting for. The beautiful and timeless “Nights In White Satin” is performed with as much fervor as the studio version recorded over 50 years ago. Hayward shows no signs of struggle during the powerful chorus. The crowd sings along with teary eyes to the promise: “Oh, how I love you,” as nostalgia washes over us all to times of when we first heard this iconic piece and those in our lives who we love just as powerfully as this song entails.
Pictured: Hayward & Lodge perform together, Edge is obstructed by his drum set in background.
There is an attraction and appreciation that has endured all these years for fans of The Moody Blues. With the band’s performance tonight, someone unfamiliar with their work could argue that they’re still doing a promo tour for the album that has just reached its 50th anniversary. Their songs were hits back in the ‘60s and the following years and remain well-aged and relevant in the present day, in a time where the art of making actual music appears to be getting deleted and somewhat lost with the readily-available sampled beats and noises.
The crowd roars with applause and cheers for The Moody Blues who have given us an unforgettable performance tonight, one worthy of celebrating the last 50 years and one worthy of celebrating the next 50 years to come.
I’m Just A Singer (in A Rock and Roll Band)
Steppin’ In A Slide Zone
Say It With Love
Your Wildest Dreams
Isn’t Life Strange
I Know You’re Out There Somewhere
Story In Your Eyes
The Day Begins
Dawn Is A Feeling
Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)
Time To Get Away
Nights In White Satin
Ride My See-Saw
The Moody Blues will be continuing their tour all summer long. Check out their official website for ticket information, and check out the dates below to see when they’ll make their stop near you!
6/03 — Rancho Mirage, CA — Agua Caliente Casino
6/04 — Pala, CA — Starlight Theater
6/06 — Saratoga, CA — The Mountain Winery
6/07 — Saratoga, CA — The Mountain Winery
6/09 — Portland, OR — Edgefield
6/10 — Seattle, WA — Chateau Ste. Michelle
6/11 — Seattle, WA — Chateau Ste. Michelle
6/17 — Los Angeles, CA — Hollywood Bowl
6/18 — Murphys, CA — Ironstone Amphitheatre
6/20 — Denver, CO — Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre
6/27 — Minneapolis, MN — Orpheum Theatre
6/28 — Milwaukee, WI — Milwaukee Summerfest
6/30 — Chicago, IL — Ravinia Park
7/01 — Dayton, OH — Fraze Pavilion for the Performing Arts
7/02 — Cleveland, OH — Hard Rock Live
7/06 — Toronto, ON — Sony Centre For Performing Arts
7/07 — Toronto, ON — Sony Centre For Performing Arts
7/09 — Wallingford, CT — Toyota Presents the Oakdale Theatre
7/10 — Boston, MA — Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
7/12 — Wantagh, NY — Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
7/13 — Holmdel, NJ — PNC Bank Arts Center
7/15 — Philadelphia, PA — Mann Center for the Performing Arts
7/16 — Saratoga Springs, NY — Saratoga Performing Arts Center
7/18 — Bethlehem, PA — Sands Bethlehem Events Center
7/19 — Baltimore, MD — Pier 6 Pavilion
7/20 — Vienna, VA — Wolf Trap
7/22 — Nashville, TN — Ryman Auditorium
7/23 — Atlanta, GA — Chastain Park Amphitheatre