When the Moody Blues album “Days of Future Passed” was released in November 1967, humans had not yet walked on the moon. The emphasis was very much on the “future” in that title: Marrying the popular surge of ’60s rock ’n’ roll with the classical bombast of a full symphony orchestra, the English band’s morning-to-night concept suite was an instant masterpiece that helped launch an era of progressive rock.
Half a century later, the perspective is entirely different. Now it’s the days passed that define this album, which is being celebrated with a 50th-anniversary tour. Performing the entire record in sequence on Sunday night at the HEB Center in Cedar Park, the Moody Blues felt like a treasured relic from rock’s golden age, a reminder of just how wide-open and full of wonder the music’s horizons once were.
Though the current lineup features just three of the five core members who made “Days of Future Passed,” that’s actually a pretty respectable quorum for a band now in its sixth decade. Drummer Graeme Edge is the only one who’s been there since the very start, when the band formed in 1964. Guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge came aboard just before “Days” was recorded, helping to redefine the sound and direction of the group.
Flute player Ray Thomas and keyboardist Mike Pinder also had key roles, as did Peter Knight, the conductor of the London Festival Orchestra. Thomas, who died earlier this month at age 76, and Pinder left the group many years ago. Four touring musicians, most prominently flutist Norda Mullen, helped to flesh out the sound onstage Sunday night.
No attempt was made to re-create the orchestral grandeur of the recording onstage. Unlike younger classical-crossover duo 2Cellos, which employed about a dozen regional string players for their Erwin Center concert last week, the Moodys simply played the original orchestra parts over the venue’s sound system in the segues between live performances of the record’s songs.
It ended up working out just fine, even if it meant part of the evening’s experience was essentially listening to the album in the company of the band members themselves. That’s actually kind of cool when you think about it. And Hayward, Lodge, Edge and their crew clearly have the timing of this show down; they kicked in and out of the live sections precisely as the symphonic segues ended and resumed (with the exception of a brief technical difficulty that, fittingly, occurred where the break between side one and side two of the LP would have been).
Lodge was the most animated onstage, hamming it up a bit with the adoring audience and taking occasional lead vocals, but really the Moodys’ beauty has always hinged on Hayward’s rare gift of a voice. At 71, he’s still a remarkable singer: The album-closing “Nights in White Satin” demands a lot in terms of both range and power, and Hayward sounded like he’s lost little of the drama he captured in the studio when he was barely into his 20s.
His inflections on “Dawn is a Feeling” and “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?”) — more commonly known as “Tuesday Afternoon” — were similarly enchanting. Throughout, images shown on the screen behind the band enhanced the record’s long-day’s-journey-into-night theme. Near the start and end, the record’s two spoken-word passages, written by Edge and voiced by Pinder on the original album, got a surprise cameo upgrade: the face of actor Jeremy Irons appeared onscreen as he delivered the lines about a “cold-hearted orb that rules the night.”
The “Days of Future Passed” section comprised the evening’s entire second set, after an opening salvo that included seven songs from other Moody Blues albums. “The Voice” and “Your Wildest Dreams,” two top-20 hits from the band’s 1980s resurgence, were predictable highlights, but a nice surprise was the slightly lesser-known “Isn’t Life Strange” from 1972’s “Seventh Sojourn” album, which featured Lodge in a more prominent vocal role. The rest of the backing crew — Mullen, multi-instrumentalist Julie Ragins, keyboardist Alan Hewitt and second drummer Billy Ashbaugh — also stood out with their essential support.
At the end, Lodge thanked the audience “for keeping the faith” and added, “Of course we wish you all a wonderful life” — perhaps worded as such in case this might be their last time through. A well-received encore of early hits “Question” and “Ride My See-Saw” concluded the two-hour show, and as we walked out, that same old wonder lingered anew: When will we walk on the moon?
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