I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Moody Blues fan. Yet, on a late afternoon in the fall of 1983 – October 21st, to be exact – I found myself riding shotgun in a boxy Renault with a college pal heading to the Philadelphia Spectrum to see them. “Nights in White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Questions” and whatever other of their songs played on WMMR and WYSP were the extent of my knowledge of their repertoire.
Oh, wait – and “Go Now,” their first hit. I knew that one, as Denny Laine sang it. And he, of course, sang it on Wings’ world tour in 1976, as documented on the 1977 Wings Over America triple-LP set and the 1980 Rockshow concert film.
But, after Laine left the band in ’66, they traded the blues for something a tad more airy. Some might call it progressive or “art” rock; I tend, these days, to call it dull. Back then, however, I liked what I’d heard on the radio, though not enough to buy anything by them – and given the rate that I bought music in those days, that’s a statement in an of itself. In fact, I likely wouldn’t have shelled out the $12.50 for the ticket except for the opening act: bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble. I’d yet to pick up their debut LP, Texas Flood, but it was on my list of things to get. (If I’d been aware of it, I may have skipped this concert and gone the night before to see them at Ripley’s on South Street.)
What I remember: Stevie Ray sauntering out to a half-filled house and, despite most folks paying him no mind, putting on a damn good show. It may seem bizarre that he was ignored given the lore that now surrounds him, but he wasn’t well known at the time; and, too, he was paired with a group that appealed to a very different audience. What I most remember: him playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” while sitting on the edge of the stage. At least, I think it was “Mary”; it may well have been one of the set’s other treats, such as “Pride and Joy” or…I’m not sure. My memory has blurred the non-“Mary” tunes into one long, mesmerizing guitar solo. (As Neil Young says, “It’s all one song!”)
Anyway, after he finished, the Spectrum filled with people, the lights dimmed and a roar of approval from the crowd filled the arena as the Moody Blues appeared on stage. Well, less a roar and more the simultaneous clicks of thousands of Bic lighters. By evening’s end, the secondhand marijuana smoke was so thick that everyone, whether or not they’d wanted to, had inhaled multiple times.
We were high in another sense, too, due to our second-level seats; the folks on the first level and floor looked like ants. What I most remember: those ants streaming toward the concourse whenever the band launched into a new song and then, just as it ended, streaming back.
The Moody Blues were a band trapped by time, in a sense. The audience consisted primarily of yuppies (and wannabe yuppies) reliving the carefree nights of their youth; fanatical followers who fawned over the band’s Mellotron-driven mysticism of yore; and young stoners yearning to trip through time to the group’s prime. Few, if any, cared about the new material. (That’s a fairly common phenomena faced by many veteran acts.)
Of course, it doesn’t help when the new material consists of things like “Blue World,” the lead single from their then-current LP, The Present. It’s far from the cosmic candy the group doled out in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, or even ’81, when they enjoyed some success with the Long Distance Voyager album.
Also in attendance: wide-eyed kids like me, taking it all in as if at a circus sideshow. And on that note, another memory: a yuppie (or wannabe) a few rows in front of us dozed near the set’s end. While “Nights in White Satin” boomed through the arena, his snores echoed through our section until his date/girlfriend/wife nudged him. He jolted upright, rubbed his eyes…and by song’s end was out again.
The final memory: the sound. Stevie Ray’s set was clear, but the Moody Blues’ was not. They became the Muddy Blahs. Their instruments blended together into one velvet-covered sludge (as opposed to sledge) hammer and, at times, the vocals were inaudible.
Yet, I enjoyed the show. Not the best concert, but not the worst. In my desktop calendar, I summarized the night as thus: “Had a good time listening to the Blues’ made-for-mellowing-out music. Stevie Ray Vaughan opened and was electrifying.”