Sustaining a commercially productive decades-long career in popular music is a rare achievement.
The Moody Blues, part of the British Invasion movement of the mid-'60s, have outlasted changes in its membership and countless musical trends. On Thursday the band attracted a near-capacity audience of about 2,400 nostalgia-minded fans to the Midland Theater.
While satisfying, the Moody Blues' workmanlike outing revealed the perils of presenting a representative career survey. The seeming necessity to perform insufferable late career hits alongside earlier classic material resulted in an untenable compromise. For every sterling selection such as the voluptuous "Nights In White Satin" there was a bit of processed cheese from the '70s or '80s like "I Know You're Out There Somewhere."
The variable quality of the set list may have been frustrating, but the band's performance -- a few minutes shy of two hours -- was admirably efficient. With tasteful assistance from four supplemental musicians, longtime core members guitarist and vocalist Justin Hayward, bassist and vocalist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge were in fine form.
Edge, the sole original member of the Moody Blues, spoke briefly about the band's hippie heyday and noted that he recently celebrated his 70th birthday.
"I've been through the sixties twice," he joked.
The seductively smooth voice of Hayward, who joined the band in 1966, is seemingly undiminished by the passage of time. The flawless sound mix accentuated his extraordinary singing on technically challenging material like the 1970 hit "Question." The song is representative of the groundbreaking fusion of classical music and rock associated with the Moody Blues. Accordingly, most fans behaved as if they were attending a night at the opera. Save their polite applause at the conclusion of each selection, they sat motionless for most of the concert.
Their reception was occasionally overly generous. Contrasted with the blues-based frenzy of 1967 nugget "Peak Hour," the soft rock of 1981 song "Meanwhile" seemed impossibly innocuous. "Steppin' In a Slide Zone" was an unwelcome flashback to the worst excesses of the late '70s. Yet the audience responded to each familiar song with equal enthusiasm.
Much of the band's earlier material, such as the flute-inflected "Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time)" and the jaunty "Tuesday Afternoon" are sterling examples of sweet-natured psychedelia. Relatively recent selections like the colorless pop ditty "Your Wildest Dreams" and the forgettable "The Other Side of Life" have not aged nearly as well.
Not every newer song was tiresome. A rendition of the melancholy "Driftwood" was exquisite. Nor did every venerable hit held up. "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)" hit as hard as a feather pillow. Only a madcap take on "Higher and Higher" offered respite from the band's business-like demeanor.
The Moody Blues are hardly in need of career counseling. Even so, more frivolity and less somber fulfillment of perceived obligations might have transformed Thursday's concert from a merely enjoyable event into something extraordinary.