Justin Hayward – Live at Buckhead Theater

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A nice surprise came in my (almost) junk email, a discounted offer from GoldStar for tickets for the Justin Hayward concert just four days away.  I knew he was coming, but with PBS hawking his tickets for significantly elevated “donation” prices, it didn’t quite fit my budget.  But it had been tempting even still.  Now, that was resolved.

Hayward is the lead singer and songwriter for the majority of The Moody Blues’ best songs.  I’ve seen them several times, but this was a great opportunity to see him without the (not so weighty) weight of a full Moody Blues presentation.

The Buckhead Theater is one of the nicest venues in Atlanta, extensively remodeled from its Roxy days, suitable for rock shows or sit down shows alike.  Just add chairs for the latter, which they did, as this was that kind of show. 

Kudos on the chairs.

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I hadn’t seen this arrangement before, but a metal bar has welded slots through which the seat legs fit, enabling patrons skinny or wide ample room for hips and elbows.  Dragon*Con hotels, take note!  But I digress.

I was curious to see whether there was some “gotta have” merchandise upon arrival.  There wasn’t, regrettably, a CD of an album that was never released, outtakes from recording sessions, a recent live recording available only at the concert, etc.  The autographed poster intrigued, but it’s just not the same if you’re not there to witness the signing.  It’s nice to see the return of vinyl LPs even at shows now, even if I no longer collect them.

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The venue was fairly full, one in which there was no youth movement.  Couples and singles of a certain age who remember the Moodies’ glory filled the seats, whether dressed casually or in suits (I’m guessing the PBS buyers, who did, in fact, get better seats.  But, there are no bad seats here).

I’ve only seen a few artists come out and introduce their opening acts, which seems to be a classy thing to do.  Hayward did so here, for the guitarist who accompanies him, Mike Dawes.

Completely instrumental, Dawes wowed the crowd, playing only four songs, but his humor, distinctive guitar style and excellent playing brought the crowd to their feet. 

After 20 minute or so break for Dawes to sell his wares, Hayward, Dawes, and keyboardist Julie Ragins took the stage.  The Buckhead Theater is a little large to be called an “intimate” venue, but Hayward treated the opportunity as if it was a small club.  Which is to say, he had time to tell stories, to introduce the songs, and to engage the audience.  And this was exactly the thing for which I had hoped.

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It’s a test, I suppose, to try your songs that have been played and heard one way for decades, and then re-present them more straightforwardly – no drums, no major audio system, no driving bass...   Without all the adornments, the songs have to stand on their own.  Happily, all the elder Moody Blues songs did just that.  They were crisp, suitably accompanied, and well sung (whatever his age).

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Still, what I wish I heard was a little less keyboard/synthesizer, perhaps a piano instead, and a more fully acoustic approach.  I guess almost five decades of playing certain songs with keyboards/synthesizers is a hard thing to shake.  Still, as this was, at times, plugged in, I also wish Dawes’ exceptional electric guitar leads had the volume notched a bit higher, as they were often lost behind Hayward’s strumming and Ragin’s keyboards.  Even better, changing the songs a wee bit to allow a little more instrumental time would have worked as well.  The songs, despite the lack of a big band, were a little too familiar (notwithstanding some excellent flourishes for “Nights in White Satin.”

As this was, again in theory, an “intimate” concert, I didn’t expect a flashy thumping rock ‘n roll show.  That isn’t to say that “Gypsy,” for example, might not have been appreciated for a little energy boost, but I have to appreciate what he did choose to play.  Aside from the expected fan favorites, this includes “I Dreamed Last Night” from his Blue Jays album (a favorite album despite the layers of sonic syrup) and “Forever Autumn,” a song that he didn’t write but which was powerfully delivered.  This song had been recorded for an audio recording of “War of the Worlds” back in the 1970’s, and though that story is depressing in its way, this song has an emotional impact that goes far beyond people getting zapped by Martians.

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The other gripe, the biggest even, is that “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” may have been his band’s bigger hits... but they’re just pop songs, the kind that have their moment and pass on by.  With such a great catalog of more interesting songs (“The Actor,” anyone), these two songs seemed wasted on the not yet elderly group assembled to listen.  My opinion...

So, I’ll remember the show fondly.  But I will also remember his occasional tie-ins to the “baronial hall” and “minstrel gallery” of the not almost but actual pop star home he had in West London which he sold in the mid-90’s.  (He downsized significantly and now lives in a one bedroom flat in France, just around the corner from “where I keep my guitars and keyboards.”  Maybe that explains why he seems to tour year round.)

In any case, it was a great concert by one of rock music’s (less appreciated) greats.

More (cropped and grainy) photos HERE.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Setlist:

Tuesday Afternoon
It’s Up to You
Lovely to See You
In Your Blue Eyes
The Western Sky
You Can Never Go Home
Watching and Waiting
I Dreamed Last Night
One Day, Someday
The Eastern Sun
What You Resist Persists
Your Wildest Dreams
Forever Autumn
Question
Nights in White Satin

Encore:
I Know You’re Out There Somewhere

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