It was be easy - and excusable to a degree - for a band like the Moody Blues, whose entire history is draped in nostalgia, to coast by simply on the haze of blissful memories. After all, the majority of the band's devotees got their first exposure to the group in long abandoned college dorm rooms, with the Moodys providing the soundtrack for smoke filled social gatherings, day-glo imagery and sci-fi possibilities.
As evidenced by the crowd that filled the intimate Bayfront Amphitheatre on a colder than usual March night, most of the band's admirers now verge on status of senior citizens - gray and balding and yet not quite ready to abandon their memories of youthful innocence. Naturally then, the Moodys could have played to expectations by hiring a massive back-up band to recreate all the familiar nuances, and then simply fronted the ensemble by going through the motions. After all, who would have blamed them for fulfilling the role accorded to any 45-year old band milking the oldies circuit for one final hurrah.
Happily, the band, which includes three of the five members responsible for their early triumphs -- singer/guitarist Justin Hayward, bassist/vocalist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge - are still happy to do the heavy lifting. Although augmented by four other players who supply the keyboards, additional guitars, flutes and percussion, it's the front line that still steers the proceedings.
Hayward, Lodge and Edge remain masterful musicians whose talents are even more evident onstage than they were on record. Hayward's arched, plaintive vocals have lost none of their passion and he even proved himself a deft guitarist, spiraling off leads with the skill exhibited by the most formidable axe man. Lodge's bass runs do more than support, coloring the textures and melodies in such a way as to actually shape the songs. And while Edge is aided by the efforts of a second drummer, he himself is quite accomplished when it comes to adding the fills and subtle percussive touches that enhance the drama of certain passages.
Remarkably, the band members still resemble the image borne by their album covers, although the fact that the giant screen behind them continually flashed views of their younger selves admittedly made the comparisons more daunting. Both Hayward and Lodge bear traces of their youthful good lucks -- all rock star svelte in mod apparel - even thought those earlier visages are informed by the creases of maturity. Edge is gray and portly, but still able to strike a fanciful jig in between the spoken poetry that guides "Higher and Higher." Not bad for a guy about to conclude his first seven decades. "I'm turning 69 in a few weeks, a number I was always fond of," he proudly boasted during his brief turn at the mike. "I can now say I lived through the sixties twice!"
As for the song selection, it was pretty much what anyone would demand - the prerequisite readings of perennial classics like "Tuesday Afternoon," "Nights in White Satin," "Questions," and "I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock and Roll Band)," as well as the later hits, "Story In Your Eyes" and "I Know You're Out There Somewhere." The fact that the band's more recent airplay entries are now some 25 years old didn't seem to matter. Even album tracks like the riveting "The Story In Your Eyes," a lovely "Never Comes The Day" and a shimmering "Isn't Life Strange" resonated with an emotional tug that melted away the decades and made the glow of those early encounters ever brighter.
Diehards might have cause for complaint that the set list didn't extract more from evergreen albums like On the Threshold of a Dream or In Search of the Lost Chord, but given the inclusion of a terrific rocker like "Peak Hour" from Days of Future Passed or the aforementioned "Never Comes A Day," no one could accuse them of giving scant attention to perennial favorites. Likewise, an encore reading of "Ride My See-Saw" seemed almost mandatory. Throughout their two-and-a-half hour performance (including a fifteen minute intermission), the Moodys still prove magnificent.
Personal Bias: Bayfront Park Amphitheater is a terrific addition to South Florida's list of new venues. However, prepare to put on your hiking boots for the trek from the box office to the entry gate.
Random Detail: It's been seven years since the Moody Blues' last studio album, a holiday set. It's certainly time for an encore.
By the Way: The Moody Blues never seem to age. Few bands - and we're talking such competitors as the Stones and the Who -- whose origins go back 45 years can match their sheer vitality.