The Moody Blues

Lovely to See You

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This concert album contains several surprises, not the least of which is its existence -- it's the third issued by the Moody Blues since the late 1980s. But it's also unique, featuring the band by itself, unaccompanied; all of their concert recordings since the 1979 issue of Caught Live + 5 -- which contained a 1960s concert -- have offered the group backed up by orchestras of varying sizes, which made for impressive sonics but reduced the spontaneity and raw excitement that should be inherent in a rock concert. The group, now a core trio of guitarist/singer Justin Hayward, bassist/guitarist/singer John Lodge, and drummer/singer Graeme Edge, with second percussionist Gordon Marshall, keyboardist Paul Bliss, keyboard player/backing singer Bernie Barlow, and flautist Norda Mullen (replacing retired founding member Ray Thomas). It's nice to know that Hayward and Lodge still have powerful and expressive voices, and the band still has a good, cohesive pop/rock sound, which holds things together even when the newer material isn't quite as strong or as memorable as their older songs. So "Lean on Me (Tonight)" holds up, even in the company of pieces like "The Story in Your Eyes" and "Tuesday Afternoon." The other major treat for longtime fans will be the embrace of some songs going back as far as four decades which haven't been in their repertory in many years, including "The Actor" and "Are You Sitting Comfortably?"; Edge's "Higher and Higher" is nicely stretched out into something of a jam by the band, with some impressive guitar pyrotechnics, and "Ride My See-Saw" is also given a leaner, longer treatment than it has received in the past. The presence of this material makes up for the absence of "Legend of a Mind," which seems to have been dropped from their repertory with the departure of author Thomas -- indeed, "The Actor" is a highlight of this set, as one of the group's prettiest songs and one that Hayward embraces with a mix of passion and virtuosity, and gorgeous support from Mullen's flute; "Question" also gets a fresh and spirited treatment, though it's been a staple of their shows for so long that it's less notable. The leaner, punchier sound generated by the group also gives some freshness and a bracing immediacy of their harder rocking songs, such as "Steppin' in a Slide Zone"; Lodge's bass work on the latter is a treat, pushing the song hard and yet also subtly melodic beneath the more prominent guitar, keyboard, and flute parts. And "The Voice" gets a tense, spirited rendition as well, with a gorgeous solo by Hayward and the two drummers' work so closely interlocked that it's impossible to separate them. An additional new feature to their concerts is the rendition, by Hayward, Bliss, and Marshall, of Hayward's late-'70s hit "Forever Autumn" from Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds concept album -- this is the first time that a solo number by any of the bandmembers has turned up on one of their concert albums, and it's even more impressive thanks to the pleasingly dramatic rendition that Hayward gives the piece. He also deserves credit for being able to bring immediacy and involvement to "Nights in White Satin," for what must be something like the three- or four-thousandth time he's sung it. The audio quality is exceptionally good as well, and the annotation is reasonably thorough, right down to identifying every instrument used by the musicians, including their amplifiers.

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