BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Playing their first Bay Area show in over three decades, Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra put on a dazzling display chronicling a war chest of classic rock hits Thursday night for a sold out crowd at Oracle Arena.
Lynne has always been the mastermind of the bands innovative orchestral sound. 2015’s “Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone In The Universe” was the first album released under the ELO moniker in 15 years and only the second since 1986’s “Balance of Power”, after which the original lineup was basically disbanded.
Thursday, on the opening night of a swift ten city North American tour before embarking on a two month tour of Europe, Lynne surrounded himself with an even dozen talented supporting musicians with no association to the original band.
Lynne’s hand-picked version of ELO circa 2018 doesn’t include anyone remotely connected with the band when it last played the same venue in 1981, but their spot on harmonies and musicianship combined with Lynne’s magical Beatlesque vocals provided a near transcendent experience that couldn’t have sacrificed much by comparison.
The 70 year old Lynne has spent the better part of the past three decades as an elite producer, working with the likes of George Harrison, Tom Petty, Ringo Starr, Dave Edmunds and Joe Walsh to name a few. He was also an integral part of the Traveling Wilburys super group that featured Petty, Harrison, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison.
With a giant bank of video monitors behind them that stretched beyond the length of the stage, a blistering laser light show with brilliant visuals complimented the performance throughout the evening as did the recurring reappearance of ELO’s trademark animated space ship hovering across the screens in various forms.
Entering the stage moments after Musical Director Mike Stevens and the Orchestra had taken their place, Lynne’s ELO opened the 95 minute set with “Standin’ In The Rain” from 1977’s “Out of the Blue” album. Released at the peak of the bands popularity when they were on the short list with Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac as the greatest band on earth, it wasn’t even one of the five singles from the 10 million selling double album, but it’s a great opener that wastes no time demonstrating the kaleidoscope of sounds in the groups catalog.
If there were any complaints about the nights performance, it would merely be that 95 minutes simply isn’t an adequate set length for a band of ELO’s magnitude with such a deep catalog. But that would be the only criticism as Lynne and Company would ultimately present material from nine of the bands 13 studio albums along with the title song from the “Xanadu” soundtrack and a trio of classic cover songs.
Belatedly inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, an honor that was long overdue, the group quickly launched into more familiar territory with “Evil Woman,” “All Over The World” and “Showdown.” The following pair of songs would trace the full evolution of ELO as “Do Ya” from 1976’s “A New World Record,” a tune originally recorded in 1972 by Lynne’s previous band ‘The Move,’ was followed by “When I Was a Boy” from 2015’s “Alone In The Universe,” their 13th and most recent studio album. It would be the 1970 collaboration of Lynne and Roy Wood with The Move in Birmingham, England that would ultimately prove to be the genesis for the birth of ELO two years later.
Next up, “Livin’ Thing” and “Rockaria!” from “New World Record” sandwiched a priceless rendition of The Wilburys “Handle With Care” as images of the the elite bands members flashed on the screens behind the the stage. If ever there was a true supergroup, The Wilburys were it. Also produced by Lynne, the far too short-lived quintet only released two albums prior to Orbison’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 52.
Their dreamy first US top 10 single, 1974’s “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” proceeded a performance of the first single they ever released, the hard-rocking orchestrated psychedelic gem “10358 Overture” from their self-titled debut album. ELO’s brief dalliance with disco was then represented with the 1979-’80 cuts “Xanadu” and “Shine a Little Love” from the criminally underrated “Discovery” album.
The final third of the show was nothing short of a non-stop barrage of hits and fan favorites. Four of the last seven cuts were from “Out of the Blue” beginning with ““Wild West Hero.” The group John Lennon once referred to as “Sons of the Beatles” were amazingly able to amp it up to yet another level as “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” “Telephone Line,” ”Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Turn to Stone” and “Mr Blue Sky” brought the all too brief set to a close.
Returning swiftly to the stage for a rollicking nine minute version of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” ELO’s traditional encore number, Lynne and his tight hand picked ensemble brought the curtain down on a precious evening that highlighted how innovative and special his talents are. He seamlessly surrounded himself with an elite group of musicians that had no problem replicating the past.
Here’s hoping that Rock’N’Roll will be blessed with more new material from Lynne and ELO in the future. And that the Bay Area won’t have to wait another 37 years for a return performance.
The tour continues with a pair of shows at The Forum in Inglewood this weekend.