On June 30th, the English “progressive rock” band The Moody Blues performed a wonderful concert at the Ravinia Festival, part of their 50th anniversary tour.
The current members of the band are Justin Hayward on guitar and vocals; John Lodge on bass, guitar and vocals; Graeme Edge on drums, percussion and vocals; Norda Mullen on flute, guitar, percussion and vocals; Julie Ragins on keyboards, percussion, guitar, saxophone and vocals; Alan Hewitt on keyboards and vocals; and Billy Ashbaugh on drums and percussion. The music they produced sounded remarkably like the band has always sounded, no mean achievement, particularly in the portion after the intermission. The music presented was sonorous, full, elegant.
The venue, at 200 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park, Illinois, is the oldest outdoor music festival in North America, and has justly earned it’s reputation as a magnificent place to hear all genres from classical music to jazz to musical theater in a sylvan setting of pristine lawns, mature trees, and perfect acoustics. Festivalgoers sans Pavilion seating routinely bring lavish spreads and picnic on the grass, enjoying splendid sound. This night, the gladioli and other flowerbeds were in full bloom, and the Park was packed.
The venerable band launched the evening with “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band”, 1973, from “Seventh Sojourn”. A very high-energy piece, it was the last of the band’s singles to use a Chamberlin, an early synthesizer. From there, the first half of the concert consisted of some of their myriad greatest hits, including:
“The Voice”, 1981 from “Long Distance Voyager”; with a mystical introduction, the song is intense yet “jaunty”.
–“Steppin’ in a Slide Zone”, 1978, from “Octave”. This was the first of the band’s singles to use a synthesizer, beginning the symphonic to electronic shift in their work.
–“Say it With Love”, 1991; a charming ballad from “Keys of the Kingdom”, it has a very 60’s feel to it accentuated by the hearts and peace signs on the large LED screens behind the band.
–“Nervous”, 1981, from “Long Distance Voyager”, which was both a “concept album” and contained a string section performed by The New York Philharmonic.
–“Your Wildest Dreams”, 1986, from “The Other Side of Life”; the story of a man remembering his first love, it was unique in that it was their first single recorded without a flute, as the band was moving toward a more electronic sound.
– “Isn’t Life Strange”, 1972, from “Seventh Sojourn”; based on Pachalbel’s “Canon in D”, it’s a relatively long piece at 6 minutes in duration.
– “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere”, 1988, from “Sur la Mer”; the song is the sequel to “Your Wildest Dreams”; here, the man realizes he is still in love with his first ladylove and vows to return to her.
– “The Story in Your Eyes”, 1971, from “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”; it features a repeated electric guitar riff, a thrusting yet controlled bass line, and the incremental use of the Melletron, a tape replay keyboard- another early synthesizer- as well as a choral-style background.
The second half of the program consisted of a reprise of their second and seminal 1967 album, “Days of Future Passed”. The album was a conceptual landmark from the point of emergence, a fusion of rock and orchestral interludes performed by the London Festival Orchestra and as Lodge remarked, “It changed our lives forever”. It contains a fair amount of what has been called “high-art pomp”. The songs are reminiscent of the Beatle’s “Sergeant Pepper”; both are landmarks of the developing psychedelic age. The beloved songs with brilliant visuals and lighting effects from ceiling to floor were sent out into the Pavilion at Ravinia, the music trumpeting across the Park. The legendary anthem “Knights in White Satin” containied all the drama and majesty one could wish; “Tuesday Afternoon”was a veritable serenade of lush sound.
In encore, the group performed:
–“Question” 1970, from “Question of Balance”; the band’s second highest charting song, representing Justin Hayward’s feelings and attitude toward the Vietnam War. It’s a memorable and instantly recognizable piece that alternates between a slow melody and a faster-paced one.
– “Ride my See-Saw”, 1978, from “In Search of the Lost Chord”; another high-energy song like “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band”, which opened the concert, and sometimes regarded as bassist John Lodge’s most popular composition for the band.
Throughout the concert, and augmented after the intermission, projected images of kaleidoscope-like visuals, idyllic subjects, shots of the band, it’s former members all together and young, and scenes of bustling city life were shown on the screens behind the band. Similarly, the side panels flashed repeated reflections of the activity on the stage. The women performers, at house left, were remarkably versatile, the saxophone and especially the flute creating the famous sound. This was a contained yet responsive crowd, mostly consisting of persons old enough to be young when the band was young or in it’s heyday. Both the members onstage and those in the audience were demonstrably happy to be there.