||JEFF LYNNE'S ELO
Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sunday 1st May 2016
I was obsessed with ELO when I was growing up in 1970s and 80s Teesside, and in those days seeing them live was a far-off dream. Then when my circumstances changed they stopped touring and split up.
But thankfully this was not a permanent state and it's merely been a case of waiting it out... only for a few decades. Jeff Lynne's ELO, containing only Jeff and keyboard player Richard Tandy from previous incarnations, played Amsterdam after a string of sold out UK arena dates leaving tens of thousands swooning all over social media with ever-present claims of bucket list status.
This was the sort of coverage, in amount and origin, usually reserved for pop acts, but I am absolutely claiming ELO as our own in the rock community for the following reasons:
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The music, especially the early stuff, owes more to prog than pop. There are plenty of doom style riffs and Symphonic Metallers owe a lot of their legacy to ELO.
Remember the scene in Spinal Tap when Derek Smalls gets stuck in the pod and has to be cut out of it? Inspiration came from the famous spaceship used on the Out Of The Blue Tour, where the hydraulics failed regularly, leaving band members stuck half way with the string section having to chuck their cellos up out of the shaft and be pulled out by roadies.
Talking of that particular string section, cellist Hugh McDowell was a bona fide badly behaved rock star who used to whip out his pet snake on the plane and feed it live mice (literally, not a euphemism there) and often wouldn't wake up to catch the flight leading to him having to be forcibly pushed under the shower, dressed and carried to the car while still asleep.
They were managed by Don Arden, whose daughter Sharon Osbourne was their tour manager. I don't need to say any more about that, do I?
Original drummer Bev Bevan joined Black Sabbath in 1982.
I described Ian Danter as having a Jeff Lynne-esque ear for melody in my review of his brilliant hard rock album 'Second Time Around' here.
Jeff Lynne is also no stranger to rock star shenanigans and tantrums, sacking the string section around the time of the 'Discovery album' with a curt letter saying they weren't needed any more.
Jeff and Richard may have taken Take That's backing band out on the road with them, but that band contains accomplished rock musos such as bass player Lee Pomeroy of Headspace, the prog supergroup.
Their classic 70s albums were recorded in Musicland, Munich and engineered by Mack – same as Led Zeppelin, Queen, Rainbow, Deep Purple.
They were deeply unfashionable in their day but have gained a huge following of people claiming to be lifelong fans now - just like Metal.
I could go on but you probably get the point by now.
Here in Amsterdam's Ziggo Dome the audience went absolutely bonkers from the off, especially the audience member with the long red hair sitting a mere six rows from the front. Did I mention my obsession with ELO in my formative years?
Opening with 'Tightrope' was inspired. That massive intro with the swooping strings that builds and builds, with the light show on the impressive screen behind showing galaxies and other-worldly happenings. This backdrop was spectacular throughout and it needed to be as this was all that the majority of people in the arena would see, with the band visible only on screen to many. It's one of the reasons why big arena gigs are not my first choice, preferring to choose what to look at myself – thankfully this was not a problem tonight from Row 6.
Having ensured a collective "wow" from the off, Jeff Lynne was the epitome of cool, simply standing there and delivering hit after hit. Looking relaxed, having just recovered from a nasty bout of laryngitis and a cold which saw the Dublin show postponed, and drinking from a cup of something hot between songs, he still defies all signs of aging. This is of course slightly easier when your trademark style is a lot of hair, a beard and aviator sunglasses - there's a lot you can hide. Shrewd move in retrospect.
Richard Tandy was his usual enigmatic self. He always did simply sit there and play perfectly, these days looking distinguished as if he should be in a classical concert, but pounding out those piano riffs with style.
So this is the Jeff Lynne and Richard Tandy plus backing band. Does it matter? Probably not when you consider that it was Lynne who did the songwriting, producing and played the majority of the instruments, particularly in the latter stages of the band. And the backing band tonight really could not be faulted musically, even if the string section were a lot more sedate than McDowell, Gayle and Kaminski. And Mike Edwards and his exploding cello.
Just have a look at that setlist - packed with classic songs. From 'Showdown' and '10538 Overture' from the early days, through to 'Secret Messages', this was some of the best of the 73-83 output with only one track from outside these years, new single 'When I Was A Boy'. I see no cause for complaint here considering Jeff Lynne hasn't toured this material for the best part of thirty years, barring a few dates at the turn of the century.
I often get tired when people only want to hear the popular stuff, but hey, when so many people never got to hear them in the first place, it's entirely appropriate and the setlist was pitched just right. The new album is great, it's definitely Jeff, but this was a night of reconnecting to the classics and to be honest, there was not a huge collective interest in hearing the new stuff.
There's a lot of substance to it too - Jeff Lynne has been famously silent on the meaning of his lyrics, in the past going as far as to say it's merely getting moon to rhyme with June and setting them to a good melody is what's important. It's fair to say that for most people it is the music and arrangements that linger and not the lyrics. However during 'Livin' Thing', everyone's up smiling, dancing, clapping, singing along to the nice tune, the screens starting to display images that were distinctively embryonic, reminding me that I have heard all sorts of explanations for this song from abortion, to suicide, to love gone wrong. Who knows, but whatever this is, it's some dark shit.
Interviewed in the Birmingham Post in 2014 Jeff stated: "I'm flattered when I'm told that I could sell out six nights but I can't really imagine it. It's great that people still want to hear my music, but the O2? And six nights? Like I said, I'm flattered... I totally prefer working in the studio to touring. I always have. But if I were to do something live again here in the UK, I'd want it to be something simple. Whether that would be ELO or just me and a few of my mates, I don't know. Haven't really thought about it."
Is this false modesty? Did he really think there wouldn't be a demand after global sales of a couple of gazillion or so, and world tours the size that they were in the late 70s, plus his continued success as producer and chief Wilbury, and staying out of the public eye?
In the end, the band didn't do six nights at the O2, they did four, plus a further eight UK and three European arena dates in a four-week period, all sold out. This was one of the most enjoyable gigs I have been to and everywhere there were smiling faces and people really getting into it – including plenty of Metallers.
There's not much else to say – in one night (well two actually, as I also saw one of the O2 dates) the gap of not experiencing ELO live had been closed in wonderful conditions and it would be churlish to pick up on anything missing. In the absence of a time machine taking us back to experience the classic line-up, this couldn't have been better. It has to be scored on an emotional level – it's the full five pints.
All Over The World
When I Was A Boy
Shine A Little Love
Wild West Hero
Turn To Stone
Don't Bring Me Down
Sweet Talkin' Woman
Mr Blue Sky
Roll Over Beethoven