October 24, 2014
Better than: The Moody Blues as a whole? No, but this solo show came close.
As an artist ages, so does his following, and at 68, Justin Hayward is attracting -- shall we say -- "mature" audiences. Indeed, it was no surprise to find that at least 99 percent of those in attendance at his performance last Friday night at the Parker Playhouse verified that conclusion to the fullest. And if one were willing to wager, suffice it to say it's a sure bet that there wasn't a single soul present whose college dorm wasn't swathed with the scent of incense (and other substances yet to be legalized for medical use or otherwise). Its then-residents basked in the sounds of Days of Future Past, In Search of the Lost Chord, or any of the other early masterpieces Hayward proffered at the helm of the Moody Blues.
Still, these days it's cocktails, not cannabis, that stokes the anticipation for Hayward's performances -- in theory anyway -- as well as the wonderment of the fact that 45 years on, classic hits like "Nights in White Satin," "Tuesday Afternoon," and "Lovely to See You" remain as spellbinding as ever.
And if these songs seemed to lack the full majesty the Moody Blues might have accorded, Hayward and his two backing musicians -- guitarist Mike Dawes and backing vocalist and keyboard player Julie Ragins -- effectively conveyed the magic and memories those lovely melodies deserve.
Hayward himself looks and sounds great; his vocals still retain the massed emotion and compelling conviction that they bore early on. Beginning on a familiar note with a series of Moody Blues staples -- "Tuesday Afternoon," "It's Up to You," and "Lovely to See You," he effortlessly segued into songs from his latest studio album, Spirits of the Western Sky, and the live album that followed, Spirits... Live, leaving no emotional nuance unturned in the process.
In fact, every song from those latter albums -- "In Your Blue Eyes," "The Eastern Sun," and "The Western Sky" among them -- sound like they could also have been plucked from any Moody Blues opus of the past 40 years. And being that there hasn't been a new Moodys offering in nearly a decade -- and no hint of one on the immediate horizon -- they substituted just fine.
As a result, there was no lapse in the ebb and flow of the performance, and even when the trio ventured into a pair of more obscure Moodys entries -- "You Can Never Go Home" and the lovely "Watching and Waiting" -- the crowd remained rapt and spellbound, a good portion of them offering a standing ovation after literally every number.
Still, that didn't preclude a pair of particularly poignant highlights, namely "Your Wildest Dreams," which offered the audience the best opportunity to keep the beat and clap along, and the spellbinding "Forever Autumn," culled from the War of the Worlds concept album, of which Hayward was an initially reluctant participant.
The concert was opened with a solo set by Dawes, one in which the British guitarist displayed a fluency and finesse that belies his relative youth. Adding percussive effects, he plays up on the neck of the guitar, creating a vibrant, sometimes cerebral sound that's both beautiful and breathtaking at the same time. He was also quite personable, sharing a few asides with the audience. One tune, he explained, started as a solo song on guitar until he was joined on it by his ex-girlfriend. "Now it's solo once again," he shared dryly. Clearly, Hayward has made a great find in hiring him as his accompanist.
Personal Bias: It's hard not to be entranced and entertained. It's those songs, after all.
The Crowd: Not a sellout, but the enthusiasm more than made up for any empty seats.
By the way: I love the man. And as a postscript to my Backstage column of just a few days ago, I am happy to say that having interviewed him three times, he did remember who I was.
"It's Up to You Lovely to See You"
"In Your Blue Eyes"
" The Western Sky "
"You Can Never Go"
"Home Watching and Waiting"
" I Dreamed Last Night"
"One Day, Someday"
"The Eastern Sun"
"What You Resist Persists"
"Your Wildest Dreams"
"Nights in White Satin"
"I Know You're Out There Somewhere"