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Music DVD Review: The Moody Blues – Threshold Of A Dream: Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970

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Somewhere in between hearing my first choir-backed chorus on a heavy metal song by Uriah Heep (on the album Demons And Wizards) and delving head first into the mellotron drenched prog-rock of seventies bands like the Strawbs and Genesis, I discovered — and briefly at least — became quite fond of the symphonic rock of the Moody Blues.

In many ways for me, the Moodies acted as the bridge between the metal and glam rock of my high school years, and the full-on prog I found myself briefly immersed in as a college student. Punk Rock, New Wave, and Rap were still to come on my eventual road to discovering Bruce Springsteen. But I digress…

Although the Moody Blues are probably best known for the numerous recordings they have made with symphony orchestras and the like, their keyboard player Mike Pinder could make quite a substantial noise all by himself with the simulated strings and voices he employed on the mellotron.

Primary songwriters Justin Hayward and John Lodge provided an ample canvas for Pinder to fill in the colors with in the form of their lushly romantic pop songs, of course. But for those in the know, Pinder was always this band's secret weapon.

Of course, there was also the none-too-small matter of the Moody Blues often unintentionally living up to their reputation of being quite possibly the most pretentious band on the planet to consider.

Between their new-agey transcendental meditation inspired lyrics (long after the Beatles had given up such nonsense), and Graeme Edge's oh-so-seriously spoken word intros on Moody Blues albums inviting listeners to "breathe deep" or to ponder words like "I think…therefore I am…I think," this was more than enough to scare off a lot of rock fans who just wanted to, well you know, rock out.

Legitimate gripe that this was, and still is, for the purposes of this review I prefer to remember the better things about this band.

Like sitting in my one-bedroom apartment on any given Friday night where I couldn't find a date (which was far more often than I'd like to admit), and turning the lights down low, firing up the bong, and putting on an album like, say, To Our Childrens Childrens Children and pondering the true meaning of this band's oh-so-deep music.

Yeah, that's it.

And on that note, Threshold Of A Dream: Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 does an excellent job of not only taking me right back there, but making me forget that I ever finally outgrew this nonsense.

Well okay, not all of it was nonsense. And I've also got to admit that not only do a lot of these Moody Blues songs hold up surprisingly well — but in the case of stuff like "Gypsy" and "Question," that the Moodies also actually kinda' rocked.

In fact, on this DVD, recorded at England's 1970 Isle of Wight rock festival (the same one where an explosive performance by the Who was likewise captured for eternal DVD posterity), the Moodies even manage to rock out on such otherwise sanguine songs as "Tuesday Afternoon." Drummer Graeme Edge, in particular, powers these songs a lot more than I ever can remember him doing.

Captured by veteran rock documentarian Murray Lerner — who has also made great rock films about Bob Dylan, among others — Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 captures a moment in time, and a band who has been perhaps too often been unfairly maligned, at their creative and commercial peak.

Interspersed with the concert footage are present day interviews with the Moody Blues (and you don't know how tempted I was to say "surviving members," because amazingly in this case, they all actually have). Given the dated nature of the material, both the video and audio are also surprisingly good here. There is also footage of the Moodies back when they were a scrapping young band (including soon to be McCartney's Wingman Denny Laine) covering Bo Diddley songs (hence, the "blues" part of their moniker).

The set itself is pretty short, but the Moodies cover it quite well within the time allotted them. Hits like "Nights In White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon," captured while they were still relatively new, sound as fresh now as they did then — and Mike Pinder's mellotron more than makes up for the lack of the London Symphony or whoever.

Again though, the real revelation here is that despite their reputation for pretentious mystical noodle-gazing, the Moody Blues actually kind of rocked.

Now excuse me, while I go look for that old bong…

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Janus

    I’ve lost count of the number of articles in which critics all set to trounce the Moodies AGAIN actually own up to finding their music appealing to some degree or other. I don’t know WHY people are expected to live inside a musical box, in which if one is a fan of one particular band or genre of music, it rules out an appreciation of other bands 180 degrees removed or other genres at certain times when one is in certain moods (the nice thing about the Moodies is that you don’t need a bong to appreciate their music; it takes the place of drugs). So you didn’t have to struggle to hard to seem “cool” while admitting you liked this DVD. We get it.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I wasn’t so much trying to position myself as the stereotypical “too cool” critic, as I was trying to re-tell my own story of how I discovered this band. Yeah, I get it too Janus. But even though the songs were in retrospect pretty damn great, you gotta admit the lyrics were also pretty goofy at times. Thats all I’m saying.

    -Glen