By Craig S. Semon TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WORCESTER — As the “cold-hearted orb” ruled the night sky outside, The Moody Blues ruled inside the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Touring behind the 45th anniversary of “Days of Future Passed” (the groundbreaking symphony-rock album that gave the world “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon”), The Moody Blues (now consisting of singer-guitarist Justin Hayward, singer-bassist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge) treated a packed house of baby boomers last night to a stellar, two-hour, 20-song set (plus one-song encore).
Edge, 71, is the only original Moody Blues member left — long-standing members Hayward, 65, and Lodge, 66, joined the Moodys in 1966, two years after the band's formation. Joining the three core members were flutist, guitarist and harmonizing vocalist Norda Mullen, keyboardist, guitarist and harmonizing vocalist Julie Ragins, organist and keyboardist Alan Hewitt and drummer Gordon Marshall, all of whom fleshed out the songs with full-bodied arrangements.
With the musical greeting, “long time no see,” Hayward and Lodge traded off lead vocals and shared impeccable harmonies on the evening opener, “Gemini Dream” from The Moodys' 1981 chart-topping comeback album “Long Distance Voyager.”
Hayward, wearing a black mock turtleneck, faded jeans and white loafers, belted out “The Voice” (also from “Long Distance Voyager”) in a voice still as soothing and as familiar as an old friend, and romantically crooned the bittersweet opus, “The Day We Meet Again” (from 1978's “Octave”).
Not to be outdone, the all-in-black Lodge, the other singer and lyricist for the group, led the brigade on the lively and jaunty “Stepping in a Slide Zone” (also from “Octave”), which shook any potential dust off the Moody Blues' catalog.
Although he was in fine voice and his fretwork was fearless all night, Hayward, who suffered a double hemorrhage of his vocal chords last year, took a little while to loosen up on stage, while his vocal-counterpart Lodge was a live wire from the get-go. And while some of Moody Blues' song titles might test one's memory, the unmistakable mélange of romantic musings and sweeping melodies were often instantly recognizable and, in turn, unforgettable.
“Tuesday Afternoon” (one of rock's classic days-of-the-week songs that will always be synonymous with its respective day) was one of the evening's early highlights and overwhelming crowd-pleasers.
Lodge's rendition of “Nervous” sounded like a lost Bee Gee's nugget, circa '67, even though it was recorded in '81.
Before “Say It With Love” (from 1991's “Keys to the Kingdom”), Hayward reminiscence a bit about how when the group recorded “Days of Future Passed” (which was an instant hit in the United Kingdom and a mega-smash when it was re-released five years later in the United States), The Moody Blues didn't have a record contract. He also took a swipe at young and inexperienced “A&R guys” who would tell them what the band should be doing, concluding, “You're here, and we're here, so we must have done something right.”
The band was more Mod-sounding than Moody on the evening's biggest surprise, “Peak Hour.” This irresistible, full-throttle, riff-shredding, rhythms and blues rocker showed The Moody Blues' kinship to British Invasion rockers such as the Kinks and the Who.
The exuberant opus “I Know You're Out There Somewhere” (from 1988's “Sur La Mer”) soared with Hayward's warm and inviting vocals that seem to go higher and higher, so much so that it got the audience on their its midway through the song.
After a 20-minute intermission, the veteran cosmic rockers came back with the '80s Top-10 hit “Your Wildest Dreams.” And if playing a double-neck bass wasn't strange enough, Lodge sang the enchanting “Isn't Life Strange?”
“The Other Side of Life” (from the 1986 album of the same name) was fascinating, not because of the quality of the song, but because of the lack of quality of the accompanying '80s video that The Moody Blues dug up (and, in a lapse of judgment, played). Proving they went through a cheesy '80s period like everybody else, The Moody Blues looked as if they were trapped in a bad Duran Duran video while Hayward appeared to be doing a half-baked Simon Le Bon impression on the vintage MTV clip.
Edge (as in the second reference to The Moody Blues' drummer, not U2's guitarist) had the most amusing exchange of the night when he chatted about how 45 years ago his hair was brown, his teeth were white and holding two fingers up meant peace, and now his hair is white, his teeth are brown, and the same hand gesture means Viagra. But, it still all about “sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll,” the burly, bespectacled and pot-bellied percussion bellowed, before breaking into “Higher and Higher.” While archival footage of the first moon landing spooled behind him, Edge did an impromptu Irish jig, some harmless skirt-chasing on stage and a sloppy drum solo to boot.
With their former selves 40 years removed on the video screen looking upon their modern-day, flesh-and-blood counterparts, “I'm Just a Singer (in A Rock 'n' Roll Band)” served as a stellar showcase for the band and nostalgic head-trip for the audience. Not only did Hayward give a serious bid for elusive guitar god status, the rousing number served as a “shame on you” to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for The Moody Blues being suspiciously absent on its elitist roster.
As he delivered the immortal lines “Breathe deep the gathering gloom” on a faux starlit stage, Edge, whose voice has an uncanny resemblance to actor Alan Rickman's, enchanted the crowd with “Late Lament,” the closing monologue from “Days of Future Passed,” even though it was the next song everyone was waiting all night to hear. And it didn't disappoint.
“Nights in White Satin” was grittier and more guitar-driven than the original symphonic strings masterpiece, but was still the evening's undisputed showstopper. Hayward's soaring vocals, as well as the accompanying harmonies, were spellbinding and spine-tingling. Not only was it the best Hayward sounded all night (which is saying a lot), the song doesn't sound as if it has aged a day. The powerhouse rendition still resonated with deep romantic longing and metaphysical musings that still sound timely and timeless today.
The evening's musical journey came to a close with an inquisitively spirited, guitar-strumming Hayward leading a massive singalong on “Question” (from 1971's “A Question of Balance”) and encore, “Ride My See-Saw” (from “In Search of the Lost Chord”) that had the crowd swaying back and forth and beaming from ear to ear.