Judge Bill Gibron catches the venerable British progressive-rock icons doing their best Ashlee Simpson impression, only with poofier sleeves and a lot more Frenchmen in the audience.
"Oh, what a lucky man, he w…" Oops, wrong band.
There are certain bands that have more or less fallen through the cracks of critical analysis. While wildly popular in their time, and occasionally considered in discussions of influence and fame, they hold no real key referential quality in the grand scheme of musical consideration. The Moody Blues are such a band. Suffering from a rather schizophrenic set of circumstances, the first incarnation of the band was far more influenced by R&B and the emergent British Invasion Merseybeat than their latter, overly orchestrated post-Summer of Love manifestation. As with most stylistic changes of this kind, it came with a reconfiguration of band mates (two original members, guitarist Denny Laine and bassist Clint Warrick, were out; iconic members Justin Hayward and John Lodge were in), and, for a while, the mixture of the mystical with the musical was seen as something new and innovative.
And thanks to the growing popularity of the stereophonic space-out of FM radio, the Moody Blues became the circumstantially pomp soundtrack for a thousand planetarium laser shows. From 1968 to 1972, their ever-increasing sense of self-importance spawned a cult of mind-expanding minions. Part Pink Floyd, part British faux folk, with a decided minor in numinous romanticism, the Moodys were a plate of cool cucumber sandwiches at a sunny English tea, or a ready-made Renaissance Festival at 33-1/3 rpm. From their psychedelic sci-fi album titles (Days of Future Past, On the Threshold of a Dream) to experimentations in instrumentation, these headphone-ready hedonists wore their consciousness-raising on their ruffled sleeves, and didn't care who considered them fey. So it is interesting to note that there are few modern acts that have adopted their muse as the basis for their Billboard bravado. Instead, PBS and other oldster formats have espoused the band as one of those safe sentinels of the far more freaked-out '60s (guess the Electric Prunes or Vanilla Fudge weren't available for pledge week).
For fans who failed to see the Moodys in their mainstream element, The Moody Blues: The Lost Performance—Live in Paris 1970 would appear to be an important find. Culled from a pair of French television appearances in 1970, the 13 songs here represent the band at its most pastoral and popular. The tunes you will hear all come from the group's most fertile time period, and combine to make up the following set list:
• "Lovely to See You": from the album On the
Threshold of a Dream (1969)
The good news for anyone interested in the formative years of this second go-round for the Moody Blues is that the band is in definitive flounce and dandydom during their 45 minutes on stage. Playing in an intimate club setting, far from the celebrated status of their rising superstardom, the group appears happy to be minstreling for these rather passive Parisians. Founding members Mike Pinder (usually playing a mean Mellotron) and Ray Thomas (that odd juxtaposition of instrumentalist and percussionist) act as guides, giving some minor onstage patter to place the song selections in perspective. John Lodge hammers away at his bass with determination and dexterity while drummer Graeme Edge appears nonplussed, barely bothering to keep the beat. And ever the proper gent, Justin Hayward wears a trademark puffy paisley shirt to match the mannered pageboy poof of his boyish blond troubadour persona. Anyone looking for mid-era Moody iconography would have his or her visual void filled superbly with this up close and personable look at the band.
But anyone enchanted by the Moodys as musicians will be saddened by the stupid lip sync performance found here. True, the band is actually vocalizing live, complete with lots of reverb and echo to mimic their records' spatial luxury. But the music is all mimed, down to the "impossible to perform onstage" fadeouts and instrumental changes. On occasion, you can hear the unplugged gear giving the band away (especially Edge, who randomly pounds on his kit without care for what the backing track is actually doing). Hayward struggles to recreate the jangled guitar solos, while Pinder would convince us that his keyboard (which appears to be a standard Hammond organ) could recreate a piano, a choir, and a full-blown symphony. The result sounds spectacular—the Moodys' music was so notoriously complicated that the band usually could not perform it in front of an audience—but to think that the five adept musicians on the stage could sell the orchestrated overage of "Nights in White Satin" or "Question" is quaint, and quite sad.
Not that the French audience cares very much. So dour as to seem dead half the time, the groovin' Gauls lay back on the tavern floor and let the Moodys impersonate a rock and roll combo. When a song finally fades out (usually with the camera focusing on a shot of the band's back), they applaud with feigned interest and wait for the next bit of baroque balderdash.
The song selection here is surprisingly strong, with very few flat sequences (though both Lodge's "Tortoise and the Hare" and Edge's "Don't You Feel Small" stick out like substandard sour thumbs). All the group's greatest hits are here, and the beautiful blending of vocal harmonies more than makes up for the lack of live accompaniment. While it would have been better to see the band in a less languid environment and actually strumming away at the tools of their trade, The Moody Blues: The Lost Performance—Live in Paris 1970 is entertaining and evocative. Those hoping to witness their favorite fops melodiously moving through their catalog may be slightly disappointed. But if you take this as nothing more than a Midnight Special / American Bandstand style circumstance, you will reap some respectable rewards.
Standing Room Only Entertainment, via DVD company Kultur, offers up The Moody Blues: The Lost Performance—Live in Paris 1970 in a fairly decent 1.33:1 full screen image that presents a rather clean, crisp 34-year old videotape transfer. Sure, there is massive flaring, some bleeding, a lot of ghosting, and a couple of moments where the colors are so muted that designs and details are muddy, but the overall picture is pretty good for something that has sat around for so long. The audio elements are much better. Given a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (there is a standard stereo presentation as well), the decibel-based dynamics of this disc are wonderful. Part of the reason why you can tell this is a lip-sync situation is how pristine the backing tracks are when matched against the occasionally sloppy voices and other variables. For example, there is a point where Ray Thomas plays his flute along with the recorded version, and you can hear the off-pitch pair desperately trying to unite. In combination, the technical virtues of this disc are better than one would expect. Too bad they are catering to a con artist's conceit.
Back in the early days of the music industry, faking your way through a TV show was seen as part of the performance status quo. Everybody did it and the public never truly batted an entertainment eye. That would explain why The Moody Blues: The Lost Performance—Live in Paris 1970 relies on this tired premise. Anyone hoping to see this prog-pop band blow away an audience with their technical skill and prowess will probably be frustrated by this French phoniness. You would think in this modern age of Ashlee Simpsons and Lindsay Lohans, such backing track tendencies would be a little more forgivable. Actually, the opposite is true. Perhaps one of the reasons why the Moodys are mired in the past is because of a dependence on something so rote for this Lost Performance.
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