Jeff Lynne, where have you and ELO been for four decades?!?
That was the collective sentiment from the more than 16,000 awestruck fans who filled the Allstate Arena on Wednesday night in Rosemont, IL (just outside Chicago). They came in droves to see the British musical genius and his reincarnation of the orchestral rock band that brought us immortal hits like “Evil Woman,” “All Over The World” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” roughly 40 years ago.
To think that the 70-year-old Lynne and his band last toured the U.S. the year Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president brings a lot of perspective to what fans saw here on August 15. First, despite the passage of time and the many changes in the public’s musical tastes, ELO is still loved by many – even if the fans are a little wider in the middle and grayer up top.
Secondly, those ELO gems still sound great live, no matter which musicians are playing the instruments – as long as they know how to play the songs, of course, and as long as the right instruments – real ones – are represented on stage.
Finally, Jeff Lynne – cofounder, primary vocalist and chief visionary of the original ELO – is still badass, even if only in the most understated of ways.
And he was all that on Wednesday. Although his brief dialogue between songs didn’t suggest it, Lynne – with 1970s curly afro and all – was clearly present and definitely in his musical element, along with the eleven other musicians that make up this version of ELO.
After the opening act Dawes – an American folk rock band from California – performed a set of ‘70s/ early ‘80s vintage-sounding songs from their short history (by comparison to ELO), including one – “All Your Favorite Bands” – that they dedicated to the night’s main attraction, the stage was set for ELO’s arrival, which itself was teased for about 30 minutes by the appearance of the famous ELO space station logo on the huge screens before the band itself launched.
What followed was a music and light-saber extravaganza that, from start-to-finish, had fans standing, dancing, clapping and reminiscing as Lynne and Co. played one crowd-pleasing hit after another.
Beginning with “Standin’ In The Rain,” from their 1977 Out Of The Blue double-album, the band broke out the strings, with the keyboards, guitars and drums all joining in. The song, itself a strong album cut that kicked off Side 3 of the original vinyl LP, was as worthy an opener as any.
(Above video featuring highlights from the August 15, 2018, show is courtesy of Mark Charvat and Bobbymagic Radio.)
They followed “Rain” with the ubiquitous “Evil Woman,” perhaps the most soulful tune in the rock band’s repertoire. It was during “Woman” we realized that, despite his 70 years, Jeff Lynne’s vocals are still relatively intact.
Next came “All Over The World,” a personal fave and the lone entry from the band’s 1980 double-platinum (and guilty pleasure) Xanadu soundtrack with Olivia Newton-John. Although Olivia wasn’t expected to appear, ELO had performed the dreamy title track on other stops during this tour.
While Xanadu was underrepresented, there were selections aplenty from the group’s better mid-70’s albums, like A New World Record, Discovery and the aforementioned Out Of The Blue.
Getting some of the crowd’s biggest reaction were hits like “Do Ya,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” and “Turn To Stone.” The night’s most gracious performance was “Livin’ Thing,” on which Lynne stood center stage accompanied by violinist Rosie Langley, whom Lynne humbly allowed to have the brighter spotlight between the two as she performed the song’s string solo parts – perfectly, I might add.
Speaking of spotlights, a conversation about ELO (formerly the Electric Light Orchestra) wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the dazzling lights show and other visual effects that accompanied each song. Like on the 1977 top-10 ballad “Telephone Line,” where a spectacular green laser show permeated the arena while eight similarly colored laser beams engulfed Lynne on stage.
During the band’s epic “Rockaria!,” a giant rotating vinyl single served as the backdrop on the large screens. The same happened at the end of the night for the set’s encore tune “Roll Over Beethoven.”
And if that didn’t satisfy our nostalgic pallet, then other intricate elements did. Like the operatic female vocal (by Melanie Lewis-McDonald) during the intro and bridge on “Rockaria!” or the double hand claps on every eighth beat of the chorus to the disco-ey “Shine A Little Love.” The crowd was happy to supply extra hand claps for the latter, particularly when Lynne cued them to do so during an a cappella break near the song’s end.
The violinist and two cellists got the spotlight again when they performed the intro to “Roll Over Beethoven”: the famous four-note opening motif to the classical composer’s Fifth Symphony.
Even the ballads were powerful. Lynne and band had the right amounts of melancholy on “When I Was A Boy,” painful longing on “Telephone Line,” and dreamy escapism on “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” and “Wild West Hero.”
The ballads didn’t tug at the heartstrings nearly as much as ELO’s cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care,” on which Lynne originally shared lead vocals with the late legends Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Tom Petty (who originally doubled on the chorus with Bob Dylan). A loud applause erupted when images of the fallen “Wilburys” appeared on the large screens behind ELO.
Perhaps the show’s only letdown was, ironically, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” which lacked the power and punch of the original. I chalked up my dismay of that performance to two things: 1) it’s still my favorite ELO tune and I had pretty high expectations for it, and 2) it’s hard to recreate that driving, synthetic beat with live instruments on stage.
But the energy returned with the next two tracks, particularly the upbeat “Mr. Blue Sky,” with its video backdrop of – you guessed it – a blue sky. Jeff Lynne and his orchestra performed the song’s many arrangements, all the way to the famous coda where a heavily vocoded voice uttered the words “please turn me over,” confirming that those words, and not “Mr. Blue Sky” as many had speculated, are the last ones we hear on one of their most enduring tunes.
By the time it was over, Jeff Lynne and his ELO were taking a bow at front stage to thunderous applause. Many of us had to wait a lifetime for this moment to come.
It was definitely worth the wait. Jeff Lynne and ELO, it’s great to have you back!
Jeff Lynne’s ELO Set List, Rosemont, IL, August 15, 2018:
- Standin’ In The Rain
- Evil Woman
- All Over the World
- Do Ya (Move cover)
- When I Was A Boy
- Livin’ Thing
- Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys cover)
- Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
- 10538 Overture 4
- Shine A Little Love
- Wild West Hero
- Sweet Talkin’ Woman
- Telephone Line
- Don’t Bring Me Down
- Turn To Stone
- Mr. Blue Sky
- Roll Over Beethoven (encore)