An Electric Light Orchestra concert has been sitting on people’s bucket lists for 38 years (the last time they played the Twin Cities). The band stopped touring and recording in ’86. Thankfully, co-founder Jeff Lynne brought his Jeff Lynne’s ELO to Saint Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on July 25. It was everything that the near sell-out crowd expected, a virtual greatest hits show that reminded us all how great this band is. The hybrid of rock, disco, and classical music, a mix of over the top orchestration and bubblegum sound that is unique to ELO, all backed by a swirling cosmic light show was well worth waiting for.
Electric Light Orchestra rivaled the Beatles in the 70’s and early 80’s. (Many critics think the group would have ended up sounding a lot like ELO had they lasted in the 70’s.) ELO achieved more combined UK and US hits between 1972 and 1986 than any other band in the world. “Evil Woman”, “Livin’ Thing”, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, “Mr. Blue Sky”, all created the soundtrack of our lives. It was and is one of the most important and influential bands ever. “Mr. Blue Sky”, “Evil Woman”, and “Don’t Bring Me Down” are played as much now as they were back in the 70’s. The definition of classic is something that is judged over time to be outstanding and of the highest quality.
ELO’s “Showdown” was a favorite song of John Lennon and he once said that ELO were the “Sons of the Beatles.” Ringo Starr and George Harrison made guest appearances on ELO albums. Lynne was in the travelin’ Wilburys with Harrison. ELO was even Harrison’s son, Dhani’s (who opened for Jeff Lynne’s ELO on this tour), first arena rock concert.
Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer Jeff Lynne is a music mastermind and the driving force behind ELO no matter which incarnation you discuss, even the one with Roy Wood who had originally recruited Jeff. Lynne is responsible for the bands unique sound.
Lynne has worked with many as a producer. He was a favorite of post-Beatle work for Ringo Starr’s projects. He produced George Harrison’s Cloud Nine and McCarney’s Flaming Pie. Tom Petty loved him. After hearing Harrison’s Cloud Nine, he asked Lynne to co-produce Full Moon Fever with himself and Mike Campbell. Lynne co-wrote one of the album’s hits “Runnin’ Down A Dream” and also provided backing vocals and played guitar, piano, and keyboards on the album.
Lynne was on stage during one of the best ensemble performances EVER at the 2004 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. He played guitar and sang with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison, and, most famously, Prince. They performed an unforgettable “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The video has garnered over 73 million views on YouTube. If you haven’t seen it, watch until the end. This is when a badass Prince, after shredding his guitar, throws it up into the air. It is one of the most iconic pieces of rock n roll music television history.
Critics have beaten up ELO for “pompous use of strings”, vocoders (voice synthesizers), and spaceships (Who doesn’t like spaceships?). One Brit called Jeff Lynne’s ELO ‘too perfect’; she explained, “There is an airlessness to ELO’s sound tonight, a saturation that is technically impressive but over-wrought. You can’t tell the live strings from the army of clones deployed by the keyboards.” I would have to agree with her on the strings comment. But is it bad to hear your childhood hits just as you remember them? The precise intention and precision of ELO is what makes them one of the most iconic forces in music history. If Mr. Lynne had done a re-imagined, acoustic version of “Evil Woman”, I would have had a seizure.
The evening opened with “Standin’ In the Rain” and then came the 1975 hit, “Evil Woman.” This was the bands first world wide hit. Lynne says that he wrote it in 30 minutes as filler for the album. The lyric “There’s a hole in my head where the rain comes in” is a tribute to the Beatles’ song “Fixing a Hole.”
Earlier in the tour they were doing “Xanadu” but in St. Paul it was replaced by “All Over the World.” A good choice and brought back happy roller skating memories.
Back up singer Melanie Lewis-McDonald did an excellent job on the operatic vocals during “Rockaria.” Rosie Langley’s violin solo made “Livin Thing” pop. Mike ‘Milton’ McDonalds solo guitar work on “Do Ya” was fabulous. The entire band was stellar.
Lynne invited his opening act and friend Dhani Harrison (son of George) out to help him with the Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle with Care,” the most memorable hit from his super goup with Harrison, Orbison, Petty, and Bob Dylan. Dhani sounds a lot like his dad (looks like him too). When I looked over at my husband Matt, he was shedding big fat tears in a moment of nostalgic bliss.
The band did “Mr. Blue Sky” right before their encore. It was EPIC.
The song was written in the summer of ’77 when Lynne was working on an album, Out of the Blue, in the Swiss Alps. He had a particularly frustrating case of writers block which had left him feeling depressed. The weather wasn’t helping. It had been cloudy, misty and gloomy for two weeks. One morning, Lynne woke up and the sky had cleared. He stepped outside and was able to see the Alps for the first time since he arrived. His block disappeared and he wrote the song and 13 others in the next two weeks. The album was released a few months later. The song has an awesome bendy guitar solo and when the song is performed live, a drumstick is used to hit a fire extinguisher to get the famous cowbell sound. The vocoder bridge that simply says ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ set off a vocoder frenzy that continues to this day. This song has been used in 10 movies including Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and in the television show Doctor Who. It was used during the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics. But what makes it special in my heart is that it’s my kids favorite ELO song. This is what makes songs great. 42 years after its release, my kids singing it in the car makes me crazy happy.
Experiencing this band after hearing the music so many times in our lifetimes, seeing it and feeling it live with Jeff Lynne still in full voice (with backup singer Iain Hornal hitting notes that Lynne didn’t) was incredible. It is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life.
Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Xcel Energy Center, July 25 Setlist:
Standin’ In the Rain
All Over the World
When I was A Boy
Handle with Care
Last Train to London
Can’t Get it Out of My Head
Shine a Little Love
Wild West Hero
Sweet Talkin’ Woman
Don’t Bring Me Down
Turn to Stone
Mr. Blue Sky
Roll Over Beethoven