Justin Hayward

Some Things Never Change

The Moody Blues
Nat Bailey Stadium
Vancouver, B.C.
May 17, 1996

Review by Michele Martin
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd, buy me some peanuts and Moody Blues t-shirts... Hey, wait a minute! Aren't we in Nat Bailey Stadium, home of my childhood favourites, the Vancouver Mounties, whom I watched many a time from the bleachers? What's that orchestra doing up on stage? And why are all these hippies in purple dancing on the field and blowing bubbles? My god -- can it be -- it is -- it's the Moody Blues, larger than life (no pun intended -- okay, some pun intended)! So, here I am, covering those venerable British rockers, and additional favourites of my youth, The Moody Blues, and I'm doing it from the covered stands of Nat Bailey Stadium, at the inaugural show of the Centre Stage concert series.

I arrived early and noted right away that the crowd was, well, older! Older than me, and lately that's saying something. 40's, 50's, 60's even. Not only is the crowd considerably greyer and more mellow than at most rock shows, but these people have brought their children, and, it appears, their children's children as well, all wrapped up in blankets and sleeping bags with comfy pillows for their little heads and butts. As I survey the terrain, I notice lots of thinning heads and thickening waistlines, and more tie-dye than I've seen in years.

centre field It was an interesting experience to come back to Nat Bailey as an adult and see the huge stage and rows of gleaming chairs juxtaposed with the unnaturally bright green of the baseball diamond. And, it was fun to watch all the privileged fans, those with floor seats, anxiously looking upward towards the heavens, scanning for rain, especially since their umbrellas were confiscated at the door. It's also the first time I've been to a rock concert where local parents were selling "50/50" raffle tickets amongst the vendors of peanuts and candy. Did I mention the beer, and lots of it, to wash down the enormous quantities of food that were consumed? Ah, there's something about a ballgame -- never mind. You had to be there.

As the opening time rapidly approached, the near-empty stands filled up, although there were still lots of people milling about, listening to the booming sounds from the sound check, which included the cacophony of a 55-piece orchestra, Vancouver's own New World Orchestra to be exact, as they prepared to accompany the Moody Blues. Under the direction of conductor Larry Baird, New World began with an medley of Moody Blues' tunes, and I felt nostalgic as the opening chords from "Days of Future Passed" reverberated throughout the stadium. Then, to many whistles and cheers, out stepped greybearded Graeme Edge to speak those infamous words, "Breathe deep the gathering gloom, watch lights fade from every room..." Edge sounded more like Peter O'Toole, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation and lots and lots of whistling, and the real show began.

Graeme Edge This evening was also the first night of the Moody Blues' North American tour, and they were in fine form, although a little greyer, a little heavier, a little slower. Looking kind of lost, flautist/vocalist Ray Thomas didn't do a great deal other than shake a tambourine, though from time to time he remembered he did have a flute, and even played it. Pounding away on his bass, John Lodge added his vocal talents to the evening's melange, while guitarist Justin Hayward ended up doing most of the vocal work, occasionally missing a high note or two. Graeme Edge stuck to playing his drums, although he did provide the powerful words, and accompanying goosebumps to "Cold hearted orb that rules the night..."

It was a pleasure to actually be able to make out the lyrics, at least for the first part of the show. The sound system had a few (okay, more than a few) kinks to be worked out, including an obsequious boom or squeak or hiss or two. The orchestra played smoothly in the background, but sometimes it was difficult to distinguish their sounds from all the other noise emanating from the band, what with the two keyboard players, the two female vocalists, and the additional drummer. However, the strings were quite lovely as a melodious backdrop to "Tuesday Afternoon," and I really did like the innovative tuba blaring in "The Voice."

Ray Thomas Following a twenty minute intermission, during which heavy metal music was played (whose choice was that?), the Moody Blues returned. They resumed their show, playing such perennial favourites as "Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band," which worked well with the orchestra, and the unavoidable, "Nights in White Satin," which was a great hit with the audience, at least for those who weren't retching. What a song! Gotta love it -- or hate it.

A particularly effective piece was "Legend of a Mind," wherein Ray Thomas' beautiful, breathy flute playing (which reminded me of a wine -- delicate, but full-bodied) had the tripping crowd rocking right along with him, moving in perfect harmony with the psychedelic light show against the backdrop of the huge stage. It was also very eerily prophetic, with the lyric "Timothy Leary's dead" repeated throughout.

The stadium lent itself well to the entertainment at hand. Having the stage at centre field meant excellent sight lines for everyone. The sound system, as mentioned ad nauseam, was boomy and bassy. The huge bowl of sound created onstage was blasted out at the audience, then deflected back towards the stage, which made for some interesting acoustics, and, depending on where you sat in the stadium, the sound varied considerably. It would have been interesting to ask the fans in Queen Elizabeth Park how the sound was from the outside. Hmm. Maybe next time.

Justin Hayward and John Lodge rock out Like most events with the Moody Blues, the evening had its moments, bad and good. I've always enjoyed their music, but have been frustrated over the years by the commercial crap they occasionally put out, and this evening was no exception. Some pieces were particularly effective, such as "Just a Singer...," while others, including "In Your Wildest Dreams," simply did not work with the accompanying orchestration. But the setting was wonderful, with the green hills of Queen Elizabeth Park in the background. The people were friendly and the vibes were good (just ask the guy in the kilt with the green hair), even if sometimes the sound system wasn't. All in all, I'd say pretty good for a first show at Nat Bailey Stadium, although it would have helped if someone had remembered to turn on the lights in the stadium right after the show rather than several minutes later.

Now, if we could just figure out a way to smuggle in some umbrellas.... After all, this is still Vancouver, and some things, like the Moody Blues, never change.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on May 24, 1996

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