Held each year between 1968 and 1970, England's Isle of Wight Festival was the premier outdoor rock party for the British counterculture. The last edition (before its recent revival) proved the largest-attended (600,000!) and best, with a lineup that included Jimi Hendrix in his last major performance, the Doors, the Who, Jethro Tull, Chicago, Sly & The Family Stone and the Moody Blues. The Moodies were coming off a string of successes with albums like In Search of the Lost Chord, On the Threshold of a Dream and A Question of Balance with a lineup that included Justin Hayward (vocals, guitar), John Lodge (bass), Ray Thomas (flute, vocals), Graeme Edge (drums) and Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals). Of the group's 14-song set, this DVD features the surviving performance footage of eight numbers, with music from two additional songs accompanying crowd footage. (The full set is available on CD.) What strikes the viewer most is how much more nicely aggressive songs like "Tuesday Afternoon," "Question" and "Tortoise and the Hare" come off than their studio counterparts. Hayward looks shockingly frail and a bit nervous at least early in the set, so it's up to Thomas to deliver the open-shirted rock and roll swagger, which he does while singing "Legend of a Mind."
However, a couple of numbers wallow in either excessive hippy-dippyness or a sober seriousness that you'd find in an outtake from Spinal Tap ("The Sunset," the Pinder-sung "Melancholy Man"), and "Nights in White Satin's" studio version is actually better than the performance here.
A short Behind the Music-style documentary featuring contemporary band interviews is enlightening, and puts the show in the context of the times - as well as certain extracurricular activities. "We said we were expanding our minds," Edge laughs about the chemical intake of the era's groups. "But we were just getting wrecked!"
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Eagle Vision, 79 minutes, $14.98.