Heading into Tucson, the night of their May 11 concert, I couldn’t help remembering the episode of The Simpsons where the Moody Blues made a guest appearance. In it, cartoon versions of the then-four band members chastised Homer and Ned Flanders for misbehaving in Las Vegas. This night, my wife and I were going to see the group at the AVA Amphitheater, a venue attached to one of Arizona’s myriad casinos.
If, like me, you find the idea of the Veteran Cosmic Rockers being affiliated with something as crassly material as a casino rather incongruous, well, you’ve gotta go where the audience is, right? And AVA Amphitheater had the crowd — Boomers like this writer and younger classic rock fans, primarily – so it’s obviously working out for the band. Too, the outdoor Amphitheater is admittedly a beautiful venue, and the night we got to see the boys was cool and Spring-y. Lots of smoke rising from the crowd, but, then, you expected that, right?
The current Moodies are a seven-piece unit: three original members (Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Graeme Edge) plus a quartet of supporting players, most of which have been touring for the past four years (relative newcomer Alan Hewitt, once co-producer for Earth Wind & Fire, more recently came on as primary keyboardist). The group produces a sufficiently solid wall-o’-sound, though in some instances the system at AVA appeared to have some difficulty with the mid-range, overemphasizing the songs’ more helium-voiced moments.
As for the Cosmic Codgers themselves, vocalist/guitarist Justin Hayward remains in fine voice, though bassist John Lodge struggled through his vocal showcases, most noticeably with the BeeGees-y falsetto in “Isn’t Life Strange?” Retired flautist and engaging tenor Ray Thomas is still sorely missed, particularly on a performance like “Nights in White Satin” — where nine-year replacement Norda Mullen just sounded off — though grizzled drummer Edge, hoisted by a second percussionist, brought the right note of geezerly goofiness to the proceedings, especially during his spoken recitation of the moon-landing tribute track “Higher and Higher.”
The band performed most of its big crowd-pleasers at AVA, though there were a few notable omissions (no “Legend of A Mind,” for instance). “Nights” was the inevitable finale, while the harder rockin’ “Ride My See-Saw” made for the single encore. For the fanatics, several lesser known tracks added some sweeter moments. To these ears, “Driftwood” (from Octave) and “Meanwhile” (Long-Distance Voyager) provided the prime showcases for Hayward’s soothing, more romantic vocalisms. But once the group goes through “I’m Just A Singer in a Rock ‘N’ Roll Band,” with its ritual vocal hand-offs at the end, you still can’t help missing the rest of the Moodies.
When you consider how long these guys have been performing as the Moodies (both Hayward and Lodge have been with the group since 1967), the sense of absence for us longtime followers is a part of the show, really — not inappropriate for a band that has long made a certain amount of wistful melancholy a part of its package.