DVD review: THE MOODY BLUES – Live At The Isle of Wight Festival/Live A Montreux 1991

I was watching Roger Waters play in Hyde Park a few years ago, when the guy next to me leaned over to his mate and said, “Great, innit? It’s just like the album!”

While perhaps missing the point of a live performance, he revealed a problem that faced the 70s prog rocker when playing live: how to recreate weeks, if not months, of multitracking and studio noodling on a live stage? And few bands did more more noodling than the Moody Blues.

Famous for their orchestral arrangements, with tracks segueing together into psychedelic odysseys, their albums were always going to be a challenge to bring to the live stage.

Here we have The Moody Blues playing two very different festivals in combined DVD/CD packages available for the first time.

The Moody Blues - Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival

First up is Threshold Of A Dream – Live At The Isle of Wight Festival. Featuring footage from award-winning director Murray Lerner this captures the Moodies playing before a festival crowd of an estimated half a million people. They’d recently released their fifth album A Question of Balance and were on something of a high.

The DVD prefaces the concert with around 20 minutes of interviews and library footage to put the festival in its historical context (including a clip of Denny Laine’s Moody Blues being introduced on stage by… er… Jimmy Savile).

Most interesting of these is a demo of the Mellotron from Mike Pinder. He’d worked for Streetly Electronics the company that created the Mellotron, and he was one of the first musicians to dare take this notoriously unreliable instrument on tour. You can hear some of its more dodgy moments here, but overall it behaves itself and helps the band recapture the lush sound of their albums as best as any band could in 1970.

There’s some great stuff here: a clear picture and a good 5.1 surround mix help to put the viewer back in the thick of it, and apart from a couple of iffy song choices (Tortoise and the Hare? Really?) this is a cracking turn from the Moodies.

Lerner makes some good choices too: putting the track The Sunset to vignettes of festival-goers as the sun goes down. The only fluff comes at the end with Ride My See-Saw mixed with footage from the band in the 70s/80s/90s, which doesn’t really work.

The accompanying CD sounds good, but has some further dodgy setlist choices including a lacklustre rendition of Minstrel’s Song. There’s a nice version of Are You Sitting Comfortably?, but the Mellotron-stretching epic The Dream/Have You Heard (parts 1&2) would have our friend at the Waters Hyde Park show declare, “This isn’t as good as the album.”  ***1/2

The Live at Montreux 1991 performance shows a very different band. They were promoting their fifteenth studio album Keys of the Kingdom, which even a die-hard fan would have to concede is a poor effort.

Instead of a temperamental mellotron we have reedy synths and mics that fade in and out throughout. It doesn’t really come alive till the final few tracks: Nights in White Satin, Legend of a Mind, Question, Ride My See-Saw, but by then it’s difficult to become engaged again (if you’re looking for a good latter-period Moodies DVD, try 2003‘s Hall of Fame).

The band seem tired, and something’s not quite right… then Thomas’ voice comes in on the harmonies to Tuesday Afternoon and you realise what’s been missing. Compare the 1970 line-up on stage with this one.

On the Isle of Wight you had the psychedelic romantics on one side – Pinter and Thomas, and the Pop Stars Hayward and Lodge on the other, and Edge stuck in the middle (like Derek Smalls’ lukewarm water).

But by 1991 things had swung over too far to the pop side… Pinder had left, Thomas seemed sidelined. With the Moodies, it was always a Question of Balance, but at Montreux it was way off.  ***

By Mark Stay

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