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The Moody Blues - Lovely To See You Live CD (album) cover


The Moody Blues


Crossover Prog

3.57 | 13 ratings

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4 stars Over time, as the band moved from mega-popular art-poppers to (largely) over-the-hill old farts, certain things just became frozen solid in the band's live show. "Tuesday Afternoon" would be either the first or second song. Immediately following it would be Ray singing "For my Lady" or (for a brief period) "Eternity Road." The first half of the show would end with "I Know You're Out There Somewhere," immediately followed by "Story in Your Eyes." The second half would open with "Your Wildest Dreams," "Isn't Life Strange?" and "The Other Side of Life," and close with "I'm Just a Singer etc," "Nights," "Legend of a Mind," "Question" and "Ride My See-Saw" as the encore. This is the third live album to come out of this general mold in the 90's and 00's, and it's tough to see at first what the heck the point of it would be.

Well, the point of it is that (a) it's probably the best of the three, and (b) it offers a lot of things that the last two live albums don't (not the least of which is that this has no orchestra). I'm as sad as anybody that Ray had to retire from the band, but with respect to the band's tours and this album (and actually, I caught this tour the same month as when this was recorded), his retirement was a boon, because it spurred the band into bringing out a lot of otherwise neglected material. Besides, the replacement flautist, one Norda Mullen, fills his shoes just fine, and she really sounds just thrilled to be on stage the whole time.

Rather than talking about the tracks that appear on every Moodies live album possible (which are done just fine, mind you, but not with anything revelatory about them), I'll instead talk about the ones that are surprises (all pleasant ones) to see. They open with, naturally, "Lovely to See You," and while it's never been one of my very favorite MB tracks, it shows right away that Justin's still in good vocal form, and it's definitely nice that there's much less of a keyboard presence in this version than in the one on Red Rocks. A few tracks later is big surprise #1: "The Actor." It's a very stirring rendition of a song that I enjoy more and more as I get older (not that I didn't like it when I was younger or anything, though), and Norda's first real melodic showcase.

Next up is a track that I had wanted an official live version of for years, "Steppin' in a Slide Zone." Man, the lyrics to this song may get dumber every time I hear them, and there's just something oh so wrong about the psuedo-tough feel to it, but I've loved this song at all three Moodies concerts I've heard in my life, and I love it here. So much for my rock'n'roll credibility. Anyway, after a decent (but inexplicably short; they cut out the "And how many words have I got to say ..." verse) runthrough of "The Voice," there's an extremely lovely performance of "Talking Out of Turn," trimmed from the overlong original length of 7+ minutes down to a more managable 5:43. It sounds a bazillion times more inspired than the perfunctory runthrough of "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" that immediately follows, I'll tell you what (Sheesh, it's a decent enough song, but it should not be a live standard!).

To kick off the second half, before Lodge and Edge come out, Hayward brings out the second big surprise; a rendition of "Forever Autumn" (!!!!!) with just Paul Bliss and Gordon Marshall (the second drummer) backing him up. The song (if you've forgotten, it was originally done for the War of the Worlds soundtrack Jeff Wayne put together in the late 70's) has been unavailable outside the band's myriad compilations (including Time Traveller) and Justin's Classic Blue album, so it might be worth getting this album just to have a version of this super-duper gorgeous number lying around. And speaking of gorgeous, a few tracks later we have "December Snow," which actually turns out to be close to a late-period MB classic (the mix of Norda's rolling flute lines and the way Justin sings, "Time take this sadness from me, time bring my heart back safely" is a good way to pull a couple of my heart strings).

Now, this may seem like a pretty decent number of surprises already for a MB live album, and it would be, but two bigger ones remain. The first is, I kid you not, a spirited rendition of "Higher and Higher," with the band bringing back that amazing TOCCC vibe with aplomb while Graeme recites the poem and tears down the house by dancing and bouncing around the stage. It's the closest (aside from, maybe, the end of "Singer") you'll get to hearing the band really doing any kind of "jamming," and it provides a reminder that Justin is a pretty decent guitarist after all. And then, to calm things down, the band goes into the softer side of its 1969 repertiore with "Are You Sitting Comfortably?," in which Norda steals the show. Her flute lines are sooooooo mystical and enchanting (Gordon also plays second flute in the background) that she arguably outdoes Ray at his own game (in this case, anyway); all we need is a mellotron and, well, it would be the late 60's all over again.

So that, aside from all of the stuff that any remaining MB fan knows of their shows, is your really nice live album. It can't get higher than a **** because it's kinda not very necessary in the grand scheme of things, but I can't pretend that I didn't enjoy this album to death while intensely listening to it for reviewing purposes, so giving it lower than a **** would seem fraudulent too. But guys, you might want to back off of the "1 studio, 1 live" pattern for a bit; unless you plan on bringing out some Present tracks, anyway (or if they never make another studio album, which as of 2010 looks pretty likely)...

PS: The best "you dork" moment of the album: while introducing "Higher and Higher," Graeme tries to work the crowd into a frenzy by emphasizing that this is a song they wrote about three decades ago, a tactic that strikes me as dumb for two reasons. First, a lot of the songs in the program were written more than three decades before the recording of this album, and second, three decades previous to this, the band was on hiatus and doing solo albums. Do your math, hippie!

PPS: I do admit, though, that the line about how the song was written, "Back when my hair was brown, and my teeth were white," is a funny one.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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