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Review: Moody Blues fall flat on tour debut celebrating 50th anniversary of historic LP
Promoters have long dreamed of using the Coachella Valley’s close proximity to Los Angeles as a tool to attract big name artists to smaller venues.
The idea was Palm Springs would be a place to start a show out of town, like a stage production getting its legs in Stamford, Connecticut, before taking it to Broadway. Bands or artists could workout the kinks before taking their shows to a major market.
But the Moody Blues demonstrated Saturday night at The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa that's not necessarily a good idea.
The venerable British band started a national tour at The Show, even rehearsing at that acoustic marvel before debuting a two-act concert featuring its greatest hits in the first half and a re-enactment of its historic album, “Days of Future Passed,” celebrating its 50th anniversary, in the second.
The Moody Blues have one of the greatest repertoires in rock history (definitely warranting their inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and acts like the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Roger Waters proved at Desert Trip that being over 70 years old doesn’t have to preclude you from sounding great.
The Moody Blues stumbled out of the starting block with its first song, “I’m Just A Singer (in a rock and roll band).” The sound mix wasn’t right, with the drum duo overwhelming the sax and flute, and Justin Hayward’s lead guitar. John Lodge’s lead vocals also lacked richness and, most importantly, passion.
Justin Hayward (left) and Mike Lodge (right) remain the lead vocalists of the Moody Blues. Graeme Edge (partially obscured) is the band's original drummer. (Photo: Submitted)
The sound guy got the drums mix right on the second song, “The Voice,” and Hayward’s voice did indeed sound good. But, throughout the first set, the choral effect of the Moody Blues vocals – the overtones that make you think there’s another singer on stage – were missing in action. The band wasn't embarrassed to use tracks of its famous orchestral sounds. In fact, there were times when the band stopped playing just to listen to the pre-recorded music and watch the visuals on the backdrop from a dark stage. There was no attempt to add to the depth of the band’s harmonies.
On “Isn’t Life Strange,” there was too much mic on the flute and the vocals didn’t have the vibrantly ascendant modulations that lead to such surreal lift-offs on the recording.
The band got it together on the last two songs of the first half, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” and “The Story In Your Eyes,” but Lodge had to exhort the majority of the crowd to catch the enthusiasm if the people on the floor. In the second half, the band was again ragged on the beautiful “Tuesday Afternoon” and Lodge’s falsetto on “Evening” was weak or de-emphasized.
The reason for that sloppiness and lack of passion is largely because this was the first night on the tour. Lodge’s vocals noticeably improved as the evening went on. By the time they finish a West Coast run and get to the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, they’ll probably have it together.
There can be no excuse for the opening night concert sounding so canned. “The Days of Future Passed,” the first fully-realized rock concept album – since the Beatles themselves said “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” started off as a concept album, but drifted – is about (ironically) a day in the life in London. It featured dramatic new video recitations of drummer Graeme Edge’s prose by actor Jeremy Irons (since the band member who originally recited it, Mike Pinder, left the group in 1978). In light of the attacks in London that afternoon, the performance of “Days of Future Passed” felt more like “Days of Old – Regurgitated.”
There should have been some mention of the horror that happened on that day in our lives when seven people died in London. Instead, Lodge told the audience completing a less-than-stellar “Nights in White Satin,” “Have a great year!”
The band’s choice of a first encore was unintentionally brilliant: “A Question of Balance.” At Hayward’s insistence, the crowd sang along with the key lyric, “I’m looking for a miracle in my life.” That ended with fanfare and video fireworks that will probably be spectacular as real fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl. Then, the female singers/instrumentalists joined the front lines with tambourines and vibrantly sang “Ride My See-Saw” to send the audience home feeling good.
But, it was hard to forget the mistakes that came before it.