By Andy J. Gordon
Many American fans have waited over 37 years for a chance to see the Electric Light Orchestra, commonly known as ELO, live in concert. But finally this summer, Jeff Lynne, the 70-year-old songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer behind the orchestra, has returned, and he seems revitalized. He has put together a spectacular band, an eye-popping stage production and a set list of cherished hits for ELO’s brief August 2018 U.S. tour. It is Lynne’s first American tour since 1981, when he played with ELO in support of the album Time. On August 4, 2018, the band played the first of two shows at the Forum in Los Angeles in front of a very exuberant, sold-out crowd.
Dawes, the Los Angeles-based American folk-rock band opened the show with a short, entertaining set. Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith led the group through a few of their catchy tunes, including some from their newly released album “Passwords.” While the crowd was receptive to the Dawes songs, they clearly were amped up for the arrival of Lynne and ELO.
Lynne performed live in London’s Hyde Park in 2014 after a long hiatus. A well-received two-song performance at the Grammys in 2015 and the release of Alone in the Universe led to a European tour in 2016. Fans in the Los Angeles area were treated to three ELO shows at the Hollywood Bowl in September of 2016, but a full tour has only been a dream for most American fans. In 2017, Lynne and ELO were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and in November of that year, the new tour was announced.
The Saturday night show at the Forum was spectacular in so many ways. Thirteen musicians filled the vast stage and behind them were towering video screens as well as state-of-the-art lighting rigs. When Lynne came out with the group, the crowd went wild. The nineteen-song show was loaded with virtually every top hit the band recorded. Every musician on stage was fantastic while the arrangements and sound quality almost made the audience forget they were watching a live performance and not listening to their old LP records. Lynne was the center of attention with his ever-present sunglasses and wavy mop of hair – the same look he’s worn since the 1970s.
ELO’s music is a unique fusion of rock, pop and classical while the stage production is comparable to that of a Broadway musical but upsized to accommodate an arena setting. Classic hits like “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Do Ya” and “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” were matched with spectacular video montages and synchronized lighting effects. For “Livin’ Thing,” violinist Rosie Langley was under a spotlight for the dramatic opening solo. Several band members joined Lynne on beautifully harmonized vocals. Those amazing harmonies continued all show.
“Handle With Care,” a Traveling Wilburys classic that Lynne introduced as “a little song by another group I was in” came next. While the band played the crowd favorite, the video wall showed images of Wilburys bandmates Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan. Another medley of ELO hits followed. For “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” pianist Marcus Byrne used a voice box for the title verse. On the bittersweet ballad “Telephone Line,” the audience could clearly be heard singing along.
“Don’t Bring Me Down,” from the 1979 album “Discovery,” was their biggest hit in the U.S. and may have drawn the loudest applause. That song and “Turn to Stone” which followed it turned into more audience sing alongs. “Mr. Blue Sky” was the final song of the set before the band left the stage to thunderous applause.
They were only gone for a few minutes and once all the band members returned to the stage, they launched into a wild version of Chuck Berry’s 1956 hit single “Roll Over Beethoven” that ELO rerecorded and released on the album “ELO 2” in 1973. The entire band blasted away and Lynne, who had played only rhythm guitar for the entire show, played an electrifying solo reminiscent of Berry. The show came to a dramatic end as all thirteen band members joined arms at the front of the stage for bows and loud applause.
The Forum show lived up to the hype and perhaps exceeded expectations. The highly anticipated Jeff Lynne’s ELO U.S. tour 2018 continues across the country and concludes in Philadelphia on August 24. Don’t miss this rare chance to see the band live in concert for a truly magical experience.