The Moody Blues offered a night to remember Tuesday as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of their landmark album “Days of Future Passed” before a wildly receptive, sold-out audience at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
I’ve seen the Moody Blues dozens of times over the decades, but I stopped going to their shows about 10 years ago because of the lack of variety in their song choices and even in their limited stage banter. This is a group, after all, that has been playing the same encore song for 49 years. But when the Moodies announced that they’d be playing their 1967 album live from beginning to end on this tour, it promised a shakeup in the British rockers’ staid setlist, if nothing else.
Tuesday night’s show didn’t disappoint, with a sensible smattering of tunes from across the band’s catalog complemented by a faithful, if occasionally awkward, re-creation of the album that spawned classics such as “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.”
“Days of Future Passed” not only stands among the earliest concept albums, but it also marks the first full-length recording to combine a rock band with an orchestra. The Moodies had been assigned by Decca to record a rock rendition of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony to be interwoven with the orchestral version as a demonstration of how the label’s new audio technology could benefit popular music as well as classical. Instead, the Moodies conspired with conductor Peter Knight to commandeer the orchestra for the band’s then-new stage show about a day in the life of an average person. Knight crafted brilliant orchestrations to flesh out the band’s songs and fill in the gaps. The result after a week of closed-door sessions was “Days of Future Passed.”
“We made an album that changed our lives forever,” bassist and singer John Lodge told the crowd Tuesday night.
Thus also began the Moody Blues’ doomed status with most rock critics as progressive-rock punching bags — witness their inexplicable exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for example. Their fans have remained undeterred over the decades, though. Many of them at the Orpheum had already donned their newly purchased “Days of Future Passed: 50th Anniversary Tour” T-shirts, eager to hear the Moodies dig into the featured attraction after intermission.
As guitarist and singer Justin Hayward hit the rollicking section of “Tuesday Afternoon” at last night’s show, audience members jumped to their feet, clapping to the beat and singing along. Lodge’s frenetic “Peak Hour,” which uses the city’s lunchtime rush as a metaphor for people’s time-taxed lives, received raves. Personal highlights came via the captivating Hayward-sung tune “Dawn Is a Feeling” and Lodge’s haunting “(Evening) Time to Get Away,” whose quieter moments allowed the lead vocals to deliver an emotional wallop.
Nothing topped the band’s legendary anthem, “Nights in White Satin,” though, for its sheer power and ability to instantly pull a few thousand people out of their seats. Hayward, who at 70 is the youngest among the Moodies, still manages to soar vocally, fortified by fantastic solo work by flutist Norda Mullen, who has played with the band for almost 15 years.
A major question going into the tour was how the band was going to handle the songs written by long-ago departed keyboardist Mike Pinder and original flutist Ray Thomas, both of whom tended to sing what they wrote. The remaining band members — Hayward, Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge — stopped performing those songs when those guys left. But for this special occasion, Lodge admirably subbed in on lead vocals for an eerier take on Pinder’s “Sunset” and Hayward offered a harder-driving redo of Thomas’ “Twilight Time.” The two traded vocal chores on Thomas’ childlike march, “Another Morning.”
For the album’s opening and closing spoken passages, penned by Edge, Jeremy Irons filled in for Pinder. The Oscar-winning actor’s contributions were unquestionably excellent, but his appearance by video came off oddly.
Another downside was the lack of a major component of “Days of Future Passed”: the orchestra. For the Moodies’ recent performance at the Hollywood Bowl in California, an actual orchestra shared the stage. In Minneapolis, like most cities on the tour, the album’s London Festival Orchestra made an audio-only appearance via the original recordings. It was authentic, for sure, but led to a few clunky transitions and weird staging.
For the first part of the show, the Moodies bounced among a selection of songs from their other albums, with the Hayward-penned ’80s hits “The Voice,” “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” grabbing the biggest ovations. But the Lodge ballad “Nervous” also proved memorable. His signature “Isn’t Life Strange” offered a rare example of a Moodies mess-up, with the vocals and backing instrumentation out of sync in the first two verses. It would have been nice to hear an Edge song, too, such as “The Balance” or “22,000 Days.”
Like every Moody Blues concert for the past 49 years, the show ended with the Lodge warhorse “Ride My Seesaw.” Here’s hoping for a 50th-anniversary tour for 1968’s “In Search of the Lost Chord.” That album essentially begins with “Seesaw,” so all setlist bets would be off after that.
Staff writer Randy A. Salas covered the Moody Blues for more than 25 years as a co-founding editor of the fan publication Higher & Higher. He also served as a consultant on the band’s “Time Traveller” CD anthology and contributed to the British documentary “Moody Blues: Classic Artists.”