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Savant's been collecting Moody Blues concert video for quite a while, looking for one that reflects my own personal memories of seeing them twice in 1969-1970. Once was at San Bernardino's Swing Auditorium and the other at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. One promising disc called The Moody Blues The Lost Performance Live in Paris '70 turned out to be a video of the Moodies lip-synching to playback in a French studio! I reviewed it fairly positively with the understanding that there just wasn't any full film record of a Moody Blues concert to be found.
The Moody Blues Live at the Isle of Wight Festival changes all that. The eighty-minute disc contains at least forty minutes of straight performing footage from the giant 1970 festival that, at least in terms of attendance, was bigger than Woodstock. Featured were The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Ten Years After, Joni Mitchell, Melanie, Richie Havens, Leonard Cohen and many others.
The disc starts with band members talking about the first incarnation of the group in Birmingham, with a different sound and personnel. The musicians describe the evolution with the help of some interesting film clips and then discuss the making of the Days of Future Passed album, which began as a rock 'n' roll version of the New World Symphony. The interviews are the usual reminiscences and anecdotes, capped by Mike Pinder's explanation of another Birmingham invention, the weird musical contraption The Mellotron, which enabled him to "sample" orchestral effects for live rock performances. The Mellotron used a rack of parallel-mounted pre-recorded audiotape loops. A keyboard mechanically engaged playback heads to read the individual sounds: typically (according to the IMBD) strings, cello, and a choir. We see a couple shots of Pinder's Mellotron in action -- it looks incredibly impractical!
Mike Pinder, incidentally, had worked at the electronics company manufacturing the Mellotron, as a quality control tester. Although the instrument showed up on the Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever, the Mellotron was an integral part of the Moodies' sound on all their early albums. It must have been a prime source of concern in pre-concert setup.
Previous disc recordings of The Moody Blues in concert are all from latter-day tours that concentrate on a few big hits. With the need to remain competitive, the emphasis has been on a venue-rocking play list. Live at the Isle of Wight Festival will hit the spot with older fans because the song lineup and "mellow" stage presence is just as we remember it from the band's heyday. The August 1970 date aligns with the release of the A Question of Balance album.
When the lengthy concert portion of the disc arrives, we get the following playlist:
Most songs appear to be covered by at least two 16mm cameras; only one song is illustrated completely with shots of the concert goers -- we suspect no film was recorded, or it didn't come out right. Cutaways to crowd details are kept to a reasonable minimum most of the time. We see no backstage activity.
The audio recording is for the most part good, with only a few lyric lines delivered off-mike or otherwise not clearly heard. The performance appears to have a glitch or two, with a harmonizing voice sounding oddly off-key on a few notes. But the group's original mellow "feel" -- the Mellotron combined with the strange harmonies --is intact in a way not heard in the group's newer stage shows. The old Moody sound didn't go in for power drum solos and blasting guitar onslaughts. The song Question uses an acoustic guitar. 1
Eagle Rock Entertainment's DVD of The Moody Blues Live at the Isle of Wight Festival is a handsomely produced, budget-priced bargain. The well-designed disc holder contains an insert folder with liner notes by Michael Heatley. Audio comes in DTS, DD 5.1 and DD 2.0. So many "commemorative" concert discs of vintage groups end up being desultory performance scraps or rehearsal footage; this Moody Blues disc is a nostalgic treat.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
1. Frankly, the fun of rock "back then" (besides the 3 and 5-dollar ticket prices) was the fact that all the performers had were a couple of amplified guitars, a drum set and perhaps an organ or other musical instrument. Yet we saw terrific shows. Nowadays The Doors, Credence Clearwater and other groups' sound comparatively "thin" in a way considered under-produced. But at least we could tell that the talent was in the performers and not their electronics.
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2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.