Seeing as the band The Moody Blues was conceived before I was even born, it is not that surprising that my only real familiarity with the band's music is the song "Nights in White Satin." I know, I know -- the group is more than a one-hit wonder, but without a doubt "Nights" is by far their most well-known composition (and considering the fact that it's regarded as a modern classic, there are worse things to be known for). In any case, given my limited knowledge of the repertoire of The Moody Blues, I expected the entirety of 'Lovely to See You' to be like "Nights" -- epic, awash in strings, and just a little bit grandiose.
Imagine my surprise, then, to pop in this "Live at the Greek" HD DVD and be confronted with the band pared down to only its bare essentials. There's no booming orchestra, no psychedelic lightshow, no conductor waving his baton frantically as the audience holds up their Bic lighters in "Satin" ecstasy. Rather, we just have a group of consummate musicians -- led by the core trio of founding members Justin Hayward (lead vocals/guitar), John Lodge (vocals/bass/percussion), and Graeme Edge (vocals/drums) -- performing a musically diverse setlist, including many more tunes than I expected to recognize. It's an elegant evening with very elegant showmanship, and if the whole affair is all perhaps a bit too restrained at times, you've gotta hand it to a band whose music can still hold up this well after four decades.
To be fair, there is a harder edge to many of the songs than the group's reputation might suggest, even if they never truly rock it out. "Steppin' in a Slide Zone" and "The Voice" are propelled by some serious bass/drum interaction, while Hayward delivers such virtuoso fret work on "Higher and Higher" that it makes it one of the highlights of the set. Some of the poppier numbers feel bland (particularly the AOR smash "Wildest Dreams," which is just too tame), but the band regains its footing when it veers towards the lavish, such as "Lean on Me (Tonight)," "The Story in Your Eyes." They even manage to invigorate a tried and true live staple like "Ride My See-Saw" with a fresh new arrangement. Add in a capable quartet of supporting musicians (particularly flautist Norda Mullen, who steps in for retired founding member Ray Thomas), and at their best, The Moody Blues is remarkably adept at creating a majestic live sound.
Then, of course, there is "Nights in White Satin." The band saves their signature tune for nearly the end of the show, and they deliver a performance of surprising power when you consider they must have performed it about a million times now. I couldn't tell if Hayward was sick of singing the song or not, for he instills its justifiably famous chorus with enough melodramatic passion to convince listeners he's just stepped up to the mic for the first time. Though the tune lacks the bombast of the recorded version thanks to the lack of a dedicated string section etc., it sounds good enough that I watched the curtain close on 'Lovely to See You' and felt more than satisfied. I can't say I'm a complete convert to the Moody Blues experience, but 'Live at the Greek' is a strong enough show that I may just go and check out some of their old records...
The 20-strong tracklist includes: 01. Lovely to See You / 02. Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon) / 03. Lean on Me (Tonight) / 04. The Actor / 05. Steppin' in a Slide Zone / 06. The Voice / 07. Talking Out of Turn / 08. I Know You're Out There Somewhere / 09. The Story in Your Eyes / 10. Forever Autumn / 11. Your Wildest Dreams / 12. Isn't Life Strange / 13. The Other Side of Life / 14. December Snow / 15. Higher and Higher / 16. Are You Sitting Comfortably? / 17. I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock & Roll Band) / 18. Nights in White Satin / 19. Question / 20. Ride My Seesaw
Image Entertainment presents 'Lovely to See You' in 1080i/VC-1 video, framed at an aspect ratio of 1.78;1. The show was captured entirely with HD cameras, and it looks quite good -- sometimes even stunning.
Immediately, the ornate stageset and lighting effects excite the eyes. Colors are very impressive, with excellent clarity and stability. Blacks are rich and contrast strong, giving the transfer a vivid and dimensional appearance. Close-ups in particular are full of texture and detail, even if sharpness falters a bit on wider shots, as well as darker areas of the picture. There is some loss of the finest details in the shadows, as well as noise -- not entirely uncommon with shot-on-HD presentations. I also noticed some jaggies on sharply-contrasted objects during slow camera movements, but it's not terribly distracting. Aside from those small nitpicks, 'Live at the Greek' looks great.
Three audio options are offered on 'Lovely to See You' -- Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit), and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and 2.0 Stereo (192kbps). The TrueHD is easily the best of the bunch, but I still wasn't blown away. 'Lovely to See You' just doesn't sound, well, lovely enough.
To be sure, this is still a good mix. The source is clean and clear, and dynamic range is healthy. Low bass is tight and generally strong, and even the most ethereal instrumentations (particularly the flute) have a bell-like purity that's enticing. Vocals are also nicely balanced in the mix and not too dry.
The problem is, compared to some of the truly exceptional and revelatory high-res audio tracks I've heard on past HD DVD and Blu-ray music releases, 'Live at the Greek' never really sets itself apart. The quality and timbre of instruments doesn't have that transparent quality that makes you feel like you're truly in the front row of the auditorium. Ditto for surround integration, which is mainly reserved for crowd noise. I also felt the subwoofer could have been further exploited with better low bass extension. Again, 'Live at the Greek' sounds very good in its own right, but I wouldn't really rank it as a demo disc.
Few supplements were produced for the original DVD release of 'Lovely to See You,' and the same goes for this HD DVD -- it's a pretty uninspired package.
The Moody Blues is a band that I had little familiarity with outside of "Nights in White Satin," but I was quite impressed with their performance in 'Lovely to See You.' It's an often beautiful and sometimes quite energetic evening with a band that could have easily just phoned it in. This HD DVD release is more of a mixed bag, however. I loved the video, kinda liked the audio, and was completely disappointed with the extras. Moody Blues fans should certainly pick it up, but casual admirers can safely relegate it to the rental bin.