Justin Hayward at The Bear’s Den (2014)


Only time will tell if Justin Hayward’s mercurial set inside The Bear’s Den goes down as one of the greatest in venue history, but, from a strictly auditory perspective, I don’t know if any show, be it past, present, or future, can even come close to matching what Hayward and his engineers dialed up.

Shuffling through a modest collection of six and 12-string acoustic guitars, the legendary singer/guitarist of The Moody Blues struck note after soul-affirming note as he journeyed through the band’s catalog of psychedelic gems, and not even the minimalist format was going to prevent his 12-string from shooting off like a Spector-esque Wall of Sound.

Purists may have questioned how well the songs would translate away from the group’s trademark lush orchestrations, but I assure you that Hayward, with help from guitarist Mike Dawes and keyboardist Julie Ragins, was able to compensate just fine.  His voice loomed large from the opening hook of “Tuesday Afternoon” and continued to gain momentum right on through the extraordinary crescendo during the chorus of “Nights in White Satin.”

In a way, experiencing these songs acoustically served only to enhance their legacy, because they proved to be just as influential away from all the bells and whistles native to The Moody Blues’ mystique.

While the group’s early work focused on fusing together elements of rock, classical, and various Timothy Leary-inspired spoken word ramblings to often-genius effect, Hayward and Co. reined in the bravado to deliver versions of that very same material in a way that defied expectations of what three musicians are supposed to sound like.

Ragins provided just enough of an accompaniment to fill in the gaps and her backing vocals added a dense layer to Hayward’s already crisp baritone, especially during Hayward’s solo selections from 2013’s “Spirits of the Western Sky.”

“One Day, Someday,” “The Western Sky,” and “The Eastern Sun” were standout moments where Hayward’s gift for songwriting really made its presence felt, because he’s spiritual without making the listener feel as if they’re inferior for not subscribing to his belief system.  Much of the record feels as if it’s filtered through the lens of someone on a quest for discovery with Hayward essentially inviting everyone else along for the ride if they choose to accept, which made for some genuinely moving moments between him and the audience.

When Hayward left the stage midway through the set, virtuoso Mike Dawes proceeded to win over everyone in the room, including the security staff, with his unique percussive style complete with tapping and pinch harmonics.  His “Boogie Shred” elicited one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever heard for someone who wasn’t considered the main attraction, so, if you’re at all interested in finding the next big thing in guitar, Dawes should be at the top of your list.

The trio’s piece de resistance arrived in the form of “Question,” a majestic track from 1970’s “A Question of Balance” that featured Hayward’s 12-string capacity in its richest form.

Everything that lovers of The Moody Blues wanted was given to them tenfold.  Every note, every nuance, every wildest dream.

If, by some outside chance, you still weren’t satisfied, you can catch Justin, Graeme, and John, known collectively as The Moody Blues, inside the Seneca Niagara Events Center on Aug. 2.






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