U2 celebrated the 30th anniversary of one of its most iconic albums—The Joshua Tree—Saturday night at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
It was an epic show centered ‘round an iconic record. And thirty years is a long time, right?
Sure, but try fifty.
The Moody Blues marked the golden jubilee of their 1967 album Days of Future Passed Sunday at the Hard Rock in Northfield. And while the “Rocksino” hosted some 50,000 fewer guests than Browns stadium, these elder English statesmen threw just as memorable (and more intimate) a birthday bash for their groundbreaking “baby” as did the Irish lads for theirs.
Still fronted by longtime guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge—and featuring sole constant Moody Graeme Edge on drums—the Birmingham band beguiled fans by performing the whole of Days during the show’s cinematic second act.
Magic? Make no mistake.
But it’s not like the Moodies haven’t been busy writing and playing new stuff. The ensemble issued the career-spanning, 17-disc compendium Timeless Flight in 2013. Then Hayward cut a solo disc (Spirits of the Western Sky), released a best-of CD (All the Way), and embarked on extensive promotional tours. Meanwhile, Lodge hunkered down to record his first solo record in ages, 10,000 Light Years Ago.
The guys reunited (again) this year to perform their ageless art rock for lifelong fans and (if you’ll pardon the LP pun) all their children’s children’s children.
They brought some gals with them, too: Norda Mullen handled all the flute bits formerly assigned to Ray Thomas (who retired in the early 2000s) and strummed acoustic guitar. Multi-instrumentalist Julie Ragins (from Hayward’s solo band) handled saxophone and auxiliary keys. Both ladies sang backup to Lodge and Hayward, too—and both looked as lovely as they sounded.
Billy Ashbaugh (NSYNC, Pat Benatar) gave Graeme some help in the percussion department, making for a memorable tandem drum setup. To Ashbaugh’s left, keyboard whiz Alan Hewitt employed a Yamaha electric piano and Arturia Origin synth to replicate all the violin, organ, and Mellotron sounds formerly produced by Mike Pinder (who left the group in 1978) and Pat Moraz.
The seven Moodies greeted Ohio fans with Seventh Sojourn (1972) barnburner “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” propulsive 1981 hit “The Voice,” and funky, flute-laden “Steppin’ in a Slide Zone.” Clad in white pants and black top, Hayward tickled the strings of his go-to guitar—a cherry red Gibson ES-335—while Lodge (in black pleather pants and tee) pumped away on his sunburst-finish Fender Jazz bass.
Overlooked, earnest Keys to the Kingdom power ballad “Say It With Love” drew a warmer reception here than it got on radio in 1991. Lodge fielded lead vocals on the determined Long Distance Voyager cut “Nervous” while Hayward strummed an acoustic guitar.
Lodge said the 1981 album was named for the NASA deep-space probe, which—not unlike the Moodies’ music—is “still flying somewhere through the solar system.”
Late ‘80s hits “Your Wildest Dreams” (from 1986’s The Other Side of Life) and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” (from 1988’s Sur la Mer) prompted fans in the sold-out house to stand up and clap along. The former tune featured acoustic guitars (Hayward and Ragins), lush synth (Hewitt), tambourine (Mullen), and a big-screen slideshow with vintage photos of the fellas in the old days. The latter rode high on Mullen’s majestic flute runs.
The band ended its first set with 1971 goody “The Story in Your Eyes,” which found Hayward really laying into his ax for some crisp, crackling lead guitar licks. If any young people or newbies in the audience weren’t already convinced the Moodies still have a few gallons of musical mettle in the tank, the Every Good Boy Deserves Favour firestorm demonstrated beyond any doubt that yes, these elder statesmen can still rock.
Act Two was an even more theatrical affair. Given to the whole of Days of Future Passed, the multi-movement set kicked off with an on-screen lyric recital by actor Jeremy Irons, whose distinct voice gave the already poetic verses extra dramatic weight.
Recorded in the Summer of Love, the Days suite was arranged so that the songs would serve as musical analogs to different times of day. Accordingly, “The Day Begins” had Irons summons “Brave Helios” (the sun) to “wake up [its] steeds and bring the warmth the countryside needs.”
Now a focal point of the show, the LED backdrop showed sundry images of balloons, landscapes, children at play, and farm animals frolicking as the Moodies settled into “Dawn Is a Feeling” and “Another Morning”—whereon Hayward noted how the smell of (ahem) grass makes one pass into a dream.
Not unlike this Moodies’ sensory smorgasbord.
Now wearing a white dress shirt and black pants, Hayward laid into a Telecaster guitar on “Peak Hour,” whose accompanying video depicted city skylines, scurrying commuters, and the hustle-and-bustle of everyday urban life.
The “midday” portion of the album cycle commenced with the more familiar “Tuesday Afternoon,” which bounced between gentle, folky verses and a spritely refrain.
“I’m just beginning to see,” crooned Hayward as tulips and trees flickered behind him. “Now I’m on my waaay….”
“Sunset” and “Twilight” time called upon Graeme and Ashbaugh to add ornamental percussion while Hewitt and Ragins utilized their keyboards to generate the violin and cello timbres of classical orchestra. Irons reappeared for another incantation on “Late Lament,” and then the Moodies let evening seep in with the ever-hypnotic “Nights in White Satin.”
It was a stellar spectacle and brilliant birthday bash for a record (and band) that has stood the test of time. Indeed, some overzealous fans in the aisles kept shouting, “Rock Hall!” in reference to the Moodies’ long-overdue induction into that pantheon of pop greats.
They’re right: It’s a travesty, really, that members of highly influential old-school groups (Deep Purple, Yes, Rush, Chicago, etc.) must take ill and die before their outfits and albums receive the recognition they deserve, while far younger (and less musically-inclined) alternative, punk, and hip-hop acts get the nod in the name of political correctness and museum ticket sales.
Which isn’t to say Nirvana, Green Day, and Tupac don’t warrant recognition.
It’s just that perhaps they don’t deserve it yet. Not when progressive, forward-thinking groups like Yes (who were finally inducted last year), Procol Harum, and Moody Blues are still out touring terrific, cerebral, soul-touching music from a half-century ago.