Jeff Lynne's ELO + The Feeling
Wednesday 20th April
O2 Arena, London
It was one of those bright spring days when it seemed every other radio station was playing 'Mr. Blue Sky'. It certainly didn’t feel like 30 years since ELO last concert toured. But the fans at the O2 Arena on the first of a four night stay knew exactly how long it’d been. Some may even have been counting the years. And the anticipation of whether Jeff Lynne could still cut it, was palpable. In the lengthy queues and security checks, conversation naturally turned to how exactly the 68-year-old might manage the energy of those hits. The main man shuffled on around 9pm. He looked cheery, hairy and healthy – not unlike Chas from Chas & Dave, in fact. After muttering some welcomes in his affable Brummie tones, Lynne looked around to check everyone was on stage. The musicians included three keyboards (including original ELO man Richard Tandy), strings, drums, some additional guitars, and an opera singer. A series of intergalactic-themed videos – the new album is called 'Alone in the Universe' – were projected behind the stage.
The band then launched into the lesser known 'Tightrope' from 1976 album 'A New World Record', with cascading violins and cellos tumbling into a cheery rolling-piano motif. The piano juxtaposed with the back-projections made the room feel momentarily like a giant pub perched at the end of time. Next up was 'Evil Woman', a personal favourite of yours truly, with its West Coast soul-disco guitar riffs. Half way through the man in front of me turned to his wife, wide-eyed, and pronounced “My word, they really are dead good.” Of course they were. Lynne would never have allowed anything less – nor could he have written such complex-yet-easy material without a perfectionist streak a mile long. Every detail had been thought through, from the musicians in the band and sound system, to the impressive light show and arresting projections. As for the man himself, his voice, dark aviator shades, guitar - and also the Kevin Keegan hairstyle – hadn’t moved an inch in all those years. Remarkable. I felt like i had stepped into a time warp..!!
Nor had the repertoire lost any of its feel good magic. That was no surprise. After all, it’s ELO’s resurging popularity – and constant requests for live shows - that made all this happen in the first place. Once upon a time the words “cheese“ and “guilty pleasure“ would be bandied around in relation to the band. These days cheese is back on the menu and no-one feels remotely guilty. From start to finish the stalls comprised a sea of silver wrinkly heads – the demographic was decidedly mature – bobbing and gyrating. Faces were lit with Cheshire grins, and arms punched the air. A couple of new album songs – 'When I Was A Boy' about Lynne’s Birmingham boyhood and 'Ain’t Life A Drag', with its echoes of Lynne’s fellow Travelling Wilbury Roy Orbison, from the new album (first since 2001), showed they could hold their own. But it was the high-octane oldies that really got the room moving. 'All Over The World', and 'Living Thing' had a typically vibrant feel. 'Stepping Out', from the 1977 'Out of the Blue' double album, showcased the Beatles influence (it was very George Harrison), while the special effects went into overdrive with a huge rotating telephone dial up on stage for the slow swoon of 'Telephone Line'. However, it was the closing four tracks,- 'Turn To Stone', 'Don’t Bring Me Down', 'Sweet Talkin’ Woman', and of course 'Mr. Blue Sky' – that really sent shivers up the spine. Unsurprisingly, they also brought the house down.
That just left the encore – 'Roll Over Beethoven', complete with an intro of Ludwig's 5th Symphony, courtesy of the string section. The irony was, of course, that Chuck Berry’s original was all about one form of music making way for the next. Lynne, on the other hand, had just proved the enduring power of nostalgia.
It isn't every day you get to see one of the first bands you remember being into as a late teenager in the 70's, but finally after waiting about 40 years to see and hear Jeff Lynne and ELO let rip live, at last I got the chance (after missing the public concert "comeback" at Hyde Park in 2014), and as someone else once sang - "Oh what a Night!" The support band The Feeling initially seemed a strange choice but once they got started having them as support made a lot of sense and they sang and played wonderfully, and were a very worthy choice. Mostly melodic pop rock numbers from the 2006 debut hit album 'Twelve Steps and Home' with the big hit singles like 'Sewn', 'Fill My Little World' and the closing song 'I Love it When You Call' went down very well indeed... They have released 4 albums since which i need to check out, the latest one being self-titled and released in March...Well worth a listen..
But once the bearded ELO frontman and his band came on stage, that was it - the atmosphere was electric, the set magnificent, the musicianship awesome and oh, the beauty of that sound. Quite a feat in the 02. The most spot-on sound engineering I’ve heard in this cavernous venue. A man of many words Mr. Lynne is not and he leaves awkward silences apart from a few sincere thank-yous but once the music and words start flowing, the songs say it all. Punk may have been more exciting in the Seventies, but listening to these songs performed by an absolutely impeccable 13-strong band, six of whom joined together on harmonies like big audible sunbeams, it was very hard to find flaws. There was no flying saucer descending onto the stage like on the 1978 tour this time and it was a bit of a shame that poor old Horace Wimp didn't get a look in! But by only forcing two new songs on the audience, Lynne seems very content that his old ones are newly appreciated. More than that, they’re completely adored.
This current incarnation of the Electric Light Orchestra will follow Lionel Richie and Dolly Parton to play the prestigious Sunday afternoon “legends” slot on Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage this summer. Perfect!! The whole package was an utter joy and the perfect example of how a comeback can sound as lively and vibrant as three decades ago. As I wandered off home with other WRC members, as a happy fifty something, I was left wondering if we ever would see such a spectacle again. Maybe not, but as Lynne would say: “Never mind, I’ll remember you this way!"
All Over the World
When I was a Boy
Ain’t It A Drag
Can’t Get it Out of My Head
When the Night Comes
Shine a Little Love
Wild West Hero
Turn to Stone
Don’t Bring Me Down
Sweet Talkin’ Woman
Mr Blue Sky
Roll Over Beethoven(Chuck Berry cover)
Wrinkly the Silver