Back in the wild and woolly days of 1970, The Moody Blues were one of the top rock bands of the hit parade. Weathering an early R&B influence and personnel changes after their 1964 hit “Go Now,” the group came into their own in the late 60s and early 70s with Days of Future Passed, To Our Children’s Children’s Children and A Question Of Balance. The distinctive Mellotron/flute flavorings and strong vocal harmonies that encompassed those records are presented “live” on Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970, available on CD, as well as on DVD.
Though unprecedented gems of history, one still has to muddle though a bit of a mismatched sound when it comes to recordings from the infamous 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival. Those sort of problems exist here. Listening to “Gypsy” and “The Sunset,” the first two tracks on the CD, Mike Pinder’s Mellotron drowns out the band. What is apparent, however, especially on “Tuesday Afternoon,” is that drummer Graeme Edge and bassist John Lodge created a tight rhythm section. The band’s harmonies are featured on “Minstrel’s Song” before the angelic voice of Justin Hayward and the jangly hollow body guitar take over on “Never Comes a Day.” “Tortoise And The Hare” dates the band and doesn’t seem to work in a ive setting. It starts off well enough but then that damn Mellotron (which was a problematic instrument on even the best of days) is simply too loud, rendering this classic far too muddy.
“Question” is more a workout for Hayward on rhythm guitar, but the harmonies are intact and that middle section has a nice dramatic quality — despite the accelerated pace. “Melancholy Man,” with some nice flute work from Ray Thomas and a heavy beat from Edge showcases the band’s dynamics. “Are You Sitting Comfortably” also features more weaving flute lines floating under the vocal. The spooky “The Dream,” with a Mellotron intro and a bit of spoken-word poetry flows right into “Have You Heard (Parts 1 and 2).” This is pure Moody Blues magic. Of course, “Nights In White Satin” is about as great as you think it might sound. Somehow, the Mellotron doesn’t overburden this one, and the harmonies fall in nicely behind Hayward. The CD ends with “Legend Of A Mind” and the moving, slightly poppy “Ride My See Saw.”
The DVD, radically different than the CD, is essentially a 79-minute documentary on the Moody Blues (subtitled Threshold Of A Dream) leading up to the Isle Of Wight concert. Many of the songs don't get aired in their entirety because the footage isn't there, or director Murray Leaner cuts away to the new interviews with Hayward, Lodge, Edge and Pinder. This is definitely a situation where you're probably going to want both the CD and the DVD to get the whole story. Which ever format you choose, Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 is a piece of history any fan with a penchant for raw, yet refined symphonic rock from the pioneers of the genre will relish.