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Published: 2014/04/28
by Lee Zimmerman

Return to the Isle of Wight (The Moody Blues Cruise)- 4/2-7

Photo by Alisa B. Cherry

Boasting an onboard line-up that included not only its namesakes, the Moody Blues Cruise – subtitled “A Return to the Isle of Wight” in celebration of the 1970 British festival that originally featured several of the participants— offered an A list line-up of classic rock contenders. With special guest Roger Daltrey, Carl Palmer of ELP, the Zombies, Strawbs, Starship, Little River Band, Shawn Phillips and various other artists of a vintage pedigree providing the draw, the cruise offered five fantastic days of rock and revelation to a couple thousand passengers intent on celebrating the sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Indeed, the timeline that defined both the era and the ages of audience and entertainers was clearly in sync. Yet while that meant that most of those on board were in sixty plus age range, this was hardly the sedate sea-going voyage one might have imagined even a few years ago. Any arthritic infirmities aside, this crowd was clearly intent on reliving its freewheeling adolescence, while generally grooving to the sounds that became the soundtrack to their youth. As one performer put it, it was inspirational to see even the seventy-somethings partying like they did as teenagers. Those that cling to the belief that youth is wasted on the young need only have witnessed this crowd cheering on their musical idols to appreciate the fact that one is never too old to rock and roll, especially when the waves are churning and maintaining the motion.

“How you have the stamina to keep this cruise going is unbelievable,” the Moodys’ John Lodge remarked at one point, citing the crowd’s dexterity when he could very well have been referencing his own. Still, there was some concession attributed to age in drummer Graeme Edge’s explanation of his weight gain. “My chest lost its battle with gravity,” he joked.

Still, with a talent roster boasting such a storied pedigree, the mix of sentiment and celebration was bound to be contagious. And indeed, the headliners didn’t hedge when it came to their prime time performances, even despite time constraints that shaved thirty minutes to an hour off their usually lengthy sets. Happily too, the party atmosphere didn’t dissipate when it came to the second string artist either. Even the obligatory cover bands managed to maintain the momentum. Randy Hansen did a near perfect aping of Jimi Hendrix, down to his vintage garb and guitar pyrotechnics, while a band called Heavy Mellow did an able job of conveying its archival covers. And while some may have raised their eyebrows at Starship, Little River Band and The Orchestra (an offshoot of sorts that clings to the Electric Light Orchestra branding) holding on to their branding despite the scarcity of original members in their respective rosters, all three outfits did a superb job of retracing their legacies through songs that brought those ensembles to fame and fortune well before the current members’ involvement. If Starship stretched its credibility by including Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” among their archival offerings, shipboard spirit allowed for a certain amount of forgiveness.

In that regard, Carl Palmer’s take on certain staples of the ELP catalog was especially telling. Palmer doesn’t sing of course, and neither do the two young players who complete his trio, but their renditions of “Knife Edge,” “Fanfare for the Common Man,” “Tarkus” and “Pictures at an Exhibition” managed to shore up the same ferocity imbued in the originals. Palmer took that history lesson even further, offering up a take on King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the Nice’s version of Leonard Bernstein’s “America,” each a tribute of sorts to Emerson and Lake’s mates’ earlier ensembles.

Likewise, both the Zombies and the Strawbs showed why they became staples of classic British rock, the former providing a few choice selections from their underrated classic Odessey and Oracle album, while the latter provided select cuts from their equally unappreciated progressive folk rock canon. Each helped turn a much deserved spotlight on artists of a decidedly vintage variety.

However, as Edge explained, even the most seasoned performer can get anxiety. He admitted to having a recurring dream that he’s sitting at his drum kit, reaching for his sticks and then pulling out a pair of bananas instead. There’s some sort of phallic reference there that remained unsaid, but that can be left to one’s imagination. Hayward, on the other hand, offered another confession of sorts. When they’re onstage, for those two hours they essentially play for free. The pay they receive is for the hours they spend traveling in-between. Daltrey admitted pretty much the same.

It’s little wonder then that the headliners performed with their usual verve and intensity. Emphasizing the more incendiary songs in their live repertory – “Somewhere Out There,” “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band,” “Ride My Seesaw” – along with their usual standards — “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Nights in White Satin,” “Isn’t Life Strange” et. al. – the Moodies seemed particularly inspired by their audience of diehard devotees. So too, Daltrey’s pair of performances were typically explosive, combining Who standards like “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Naked Eye” and “Pimball Wizard” with a pair of tunes from the new album he recorded with Wilco Johnson as well as a superb solo set closer “Without Your Love,” a song that seemed particularly on point considering the audience’s adulation. (“I should thank you for what you do because without you, I couldn’t do what I do,” he said sincerely.) Happily, guitarists Frank Simes and Simon Townshend helped affirm the energy and adrenalin, bringing a Who-like spectacle to the proceedings. In a Q & A session, Daltrey claimed that in nearly fifty years of famously spinning the microphone chord, he’s only broken two mikes. However, he did admit that his band mates often have to duck just to get out of the way.

Nevertheless, the live music wasn’t confined to the theater performances. The outdoor Aqua Park and various venues throughout the ship offered more intimate environs, although the closer confines sometimes made seating a challenge. However, the various storyteller sessions and question and answer offerings with the artists did give an opportunity for fans to meet and mingle with the musicians, providing the kind of experience that only a cruise of this kind can offer.

Indeed, even if the seas stayed calm, the boat rocked regardless.

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