Deep Cuts and Reinvented Art-Rock Classics on Justin Hayward’s New Concert DVD
Let’s say you’re an art-rock icon, one of the most influential songwriters of the 60s and 70s, and one of the great underrated lead guitarists in the history of rock. You’ve also got a solo side project that you’d like to document on DVD. Do you take an easy run through the hits? Not if you’re Justin Hayward. His new concert DVD Live in Concert At the Capitol Theatre, captured in tasteful, three-camera rock-doc style focus by filmmaker David Minasian, has plenty of Moody Blues material. And there are enough hits in the set to keep any oldies radio listener happy: Nights in White Satin, a surprisingly energetic Tuesday Afternoon, and the strummy Question, the Pete Townshend-esque folk-pop hit that you would expect Hayward to break out in a semi-acoustic set.
But this is mostly deep tracks. Interestingly, Hayward plays mostly acoustic rhythm guitar here, lead player Mike Dawes adeptly taking over on the solos from the recordings and adding his own purist, bititingly bluesy edge. Julie Ragins, who’s been the Moody Blues’ de facto keyboardist for the past decade. adds lustre and sweep via a vast swath of textures, and sings high harmonies. Hayward’s voice at this show, at a Florida theatre in late 2014, has weathered a bit, but he still hits the high notes when he has to, and looks every bit the veteran cosmic rocker.
The other Moody Blues numbers are unexpected and very welcome. From the peak of the band’s psychedelic era, there’s the lively psych-pop diptych of It’s Up To You and Lovely To See You Again My Friend. From the mellotron-rich orchestrated era, there’s a stripped-down but unexpectedly bristling take of You Can Never Go Home, with a fiery Dawes Telecaster solo. They also take a surprisingly animated romp through Watching and Waiting. And I Know You’re Out There Somewhere – a gorgeous anthem that the Moody Blues never really got right on record, even on the epic Live at Red Rocks album – finally gets its due here.
Hayward’s own solo material from across the decades is just as inspired. He switches to twelve-string and hits In Your Blue Eyes with a frenetic strum. The Western Sky sounds like a throwback to the Moodies circa Long Distance Voyager. I Dreamed Last Night – the brilliant opening track on Hayward’s Blue Jays album with his Moody Blues bandmate John Lodge – gets an absolutely majestic, organ-fueled treatment. Hayward brings out all the underlying angst and longing in One Day, Someday, has fun with the bluegrassy What You Resist Persists and saves the bittersweet Forever Autumn for a towering coda. There are also three bonus tracks including the haunting 1975 UK hit Blue Guitar, the hypnotic Who Are You Now and the understatedly phantasmagorical The Wind of Heaven.