Live Review: Jeff Lynne’s ELO at The O2 Arena (17/10/18)

Electric Light Orchestra is originally a prog-pop/rock or art-rock band from Birmingham (UK), established in 1970 by composers Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood. The band was characterised by a retro-futuristic style, a mix of classic and innovative, groovy tunes. ELO continued on until 2000 when the last original member along with Lynne, Bev Bevan, sold his share of the ELO name to Jeff.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO is born: on the 14th September 2014, for BBC Radio 2’s “Festival in a Day” in Hyde Park, Jeff Lynne was suggested to perform tracks from ELO. Consequently, he came up with the ‘Jeff Lynne’s ELO’ name; it would differentiate his act from other imitation and tribute bands which were going on at that moment.

Wembley or Bust, Jeff Lynne’s ELO concert at 60,000-capacity Wembley Stadium on June 24, 2017, marks an important milestone in contemporary Electric Light Orchestra history. The massive and quirky stadium spectacle was filmed and released as a concert film [trailer can be seen here]. Both visually and musically it is a stunning piece which contrasts the evolution of time-honoured ELO and an ultramodern, technological performance.

“I was a little worried about this show,” admitted Lynne. “But our fans are the best because they not only showed up, they sang along with all their hearts.”

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The current 14-date autumn tour is based in Arenas whose capacity goes from 5,000 (Nottingham Motorpoint Arena) to 21,000 (Manchester Arena).

On Wednesday the 17th of October, the first show of four in a row at Greenwich’s The O2 Arena took place. At 7.30pm support act Billy Lockett, Northampton-born singer-songwriter, presented a 10-ballad setlist along with a drummer and a guitarist/bassist who switched instruments depending on the occasion. Bringing James Bay and Sam Smith to mind, it was quite a sentimental, laid-back indie-pop show with a minimalistic appearance. It did not seem entirely appropriate as a support act for Jeff Lynne’s ELO; even if Billy had a sensational vocal range and a good command of his abilities, the atmosphere was rather too quiet and plain for a hectic and extravagant performance that was to follow.

The spaceship awaits: panoramic screens in the back and in the floor of the stage gave an accurate picture of ELO’s spaceship awaiting for the band to take off. At 10 minutes to 9pm, the thirteen musicians appeared on the funky stage and ‘Standin’ in the Rain’ (Out of the Blue, 1977) began, possibly one of the ‘proggiest’ tunes in ELO history and a stupendous way to present the string-trio formed of two cellos and a violin. ‘Evil Woman’ (Face the Music, 1975) was played next, highlighting a very potent keyboard ensemble of three different pianos on stage whilst raging fire was displayed in the screens.

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The spaceship awaits!

A party all over The O2: ‘All Over the World’ (Xanadu, 1980) showed a spinning Earth and interstellar cinematics. The vintage, almost angry sound of one of the two guitars evoked a genuine nostalgic sensation. The multi-coloured lighting spectacle was very impressive as well. ‘Showdown’ (Showdown, 1974) exposed Jeff’s extremely crisp reverberating vocals accompanied by texture-creating cellos and violin. ‘Do Ya’ (1972), written by Lynne but originally recorded with the band The Move, changed the aesthetics radically to unadorned and black & white, successfully recalling the 70s. Coming back to the extravagance, the screens now showed a tree surrounded by space, a proper metaphor for ELO’s retro-futuristic duality. Jeff just wanted to play his (acoustic) guitar to the bars of ‘When I Was a Boy’ (Alone in the Universe, 2015).

Higher and higher: ‘Livin’ Thing’ (A New World Record, 1976), ‘Handle with Care’ (Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, 1988) and ‘Rockaria!’ (A New World Record, 1976) saw the funkiest moments of the spectacle, even if the 20,000 attendees seemed a little bit out of practice for dancing. Highlights of these three tracks included the surprising vocals of the backup singers Iain Hornal and Melanie Lewis-McDonald; Jet Records’ blue vinyl spinning in the background screens; and very psychedelic multi-coloured lighting. In ‘Last Train to London’ (Discovery, 1979) the bass guitar was obviously in the limelight, sounding extremely fresh. The best thing undoubtedly was the completely balanced and shockingly clear sound. Synthwave cinematics teleported the public to a world where ‘Saturday Night Fever’ (1977) meets ‘Tron’ (1982).

Shine a (not so) little lasers: ‘10538 Overture’ (The Electric Light Orchestra, 1971), ‘Shine a Little Love’ (Discovery, 1979), ‘Wild West Hero’ (Out of the Blue, 1978) and ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’ (Out of the Blue, 1978) demonstrated that Jeff Lynne’s ELO major asset was the setting: fences and chains twirling in the screens; electric green lasers and dots frenetically moving all around the Arena; arid mountains and deserts illuminated by a dazzling sun… The stage set produced a remarkable immersive experience reminiscent of British band Muse’s shows.

Don’t bring The O2 down: ‘Telephone Line’ (A New World Record, 1976) brought about a peaceful mood thanks to the string trio and Lynne’s mesmerizing “Give me some time, I’m living in twilight”. The mood was fast disrupted by ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ (Discovery, 1979) whose geometric shapes all over the screens, boosted by the sharp bass guitar and electric guitar, conjured a horse race from a Western film.

Leaving so soon? ‘Turn to Stone’ (Out of the Blue, 1978) was backed by a background meteor shower. Beatlesque ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ (Out of the Blue, 1978) put almost everyone on their feet, as it is probably the most famous ELO track, a true hymn. Finally, the closing anthem was a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ (Chuck Berry Is on Top, 1959) introduced by a cello-violin rendition of Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 5’. Berry’s song was a means of telling the world that rhythm and blues plus rock and roll would soon replace classical music.

To wrap up, Jeff Lynne and his band are a complete must-see for all kinds of audiences. The show comes to pass so quickly it is hard to believe. If there must be a con, that is definitely the only one: 19 tracks, one hour and forty minutes… And you are left starving for more! If you would like to see Jeff Lynne’s ELO in London, you can still catch him on his three remaining nights at The O2 Arena on the 18th, 19th and 20th of October. Tickets are available here.

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