SCRANTON, PA—On the weekend of Woodstock’s 40th anniversary, I caught The Moody Blues’ performance at Scranton’s Montage Mountain venue. A fan in passing, my approach to the band’s music was respectfully interested but limited, distanced by generation gaps and different musical interests. Even though I felt a little removed from their material at first, the band’s excellent performance and sophisticated musicianship won me over within the opening songs. By the end of the evening I was standing in the merchandise line, wallet in hand.
On tour as a trio since July, original members Justin Hayward, bassist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge were complemented seamlessly by flautist Norda Mullen in for Ray Thomas, keyboardists Bernie Barlow and Paul Bliss in for original key wizard, Mike Pinder, and an outstanding additional drummer, Gordon Marshall. Opening their two-hour show with “The Voice,” the Moodies staged an exceptional performance on all levels for fans from the most diehard to the most green. Anyone who dismisses this band as outdated or irrelevant is missing out, foolishly, on a timeless, stellar performance. Hayward’s singing was charming and note-for-note perfect, showcased at its best during a grand finale of classics including “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock & Roll Band),” the ever-so-passionate “Nights In White Satin,” and “Are You Sitting Comfortably” before culminating in a lively encore of “Ride My See-Saw.”
Never outshined by Marshall, Edge kept a smile on his face from the show’s start to finish and addressed the crowd at one point, drawing attention to Woodstock’s anniversary and that of Armstrong’s steps on the moon. “That was,” he said to laughter and applause, “back when my hair was brown and my teeth were white.” From Edge’s speech, the band launched into “Higher And Higher,” a song written and performed with Edge’s obvious good nature and humor as he narrated each verse. The song featured amazing (but too short!) solos from Hayward on guitar and from Edge, once again behind the drum set. If, by this point in the show anyone in the audience doubted The Moody Blues’ capabilities as a group of professional musicians and entertainers, they were surely convinced by its conclusion when, during the refrain of “Question,” the audience sang, unprompted, “I’m looking for someone to change my life; I’m looking for a miracle in my life.” It was at this point that I realized the staying power of this band, their unity as a group of masterful composers, their importance as artists and (retired?) hippies, and their worth as unparalleled musicians.
If I had to offer an admittedly weak criticism of the show, it might be that beginning their first set with “The Voice” was a light choice; beginning with one of the later classics might have gotten the audience more immediately engaged. But that’s the best I have in the way of constructive criticism for a band that clearly doesn’t need it and is still obviously present and accounted for.