The huge veil separating the stage from the audience suddenly comes alive with projections of space travel, as dramatic strings soundtrack a journey deep into the cosmos. When Tightrope’s bluesy riff kicks in the veil drops revealing the band. As an introduction this is exactly what you would expect from an Electric Light Orchestra concert. Full of theatricality and spectacle but anchored by the unassuming Jeff Lynne, who hides his fame and fortune behind trademark sunglasses and a knowing smile. “It’s so good to be home,” he tells the audience, “we’ll put on a good show for you tonight” he assures us before Evil Woman lights up the stage again.
What follows is a perfectly executed trip through ELO’s back catalogue of hits plus songs from latest album “Alone In The Universe,” the name also given to their current tour. Of the original 70’s line-up, only Lynne and keyboardist John Tandy remain. The appearance of the bands’ debut single, 10538 Overture, midway through the set is the only reference to the pre-Wizzard Roy Wood days. The new lesser known tracks are equally well received. When I Was A Boy sounds like something from their classic 1977 Out of The Blue album while Ain’t Life A drag leans more towards The Travelling Wilburys style of rock and in particular George Harrison. But it is the classic 1977 album, considered to be the band’s high water mark which forms the bulk of the set, with Turn to Stone, Sweet Talking Woman and Mr Blue Sky constituting a runaway ending that leaves any self respecting ELO fan breathless.
For all the laser-guided melodies that conjure up an arena-sized visual extravaganza, there are moments of stripped back brilliance emanating from the stage. Livin’ Thing, a song known for its widescreen production as much for its mariachi style violin intro, is brought to life as an intimate arrangement of instruments and vocals, demonstrating how stylistic ELO can be. Where else could you hear opera mixed with bar room rock and roll (Rockaria) neon disco (Shine A Little Love) and new wave twitch (Secret Messages) in quick succession? Wild West Hero brings a show stopping moment of down tempo vocal prowess by Lynne, which leaves the arena in rapture. His thumbs in the air response and appreciative smile, living proof that you can have your feet firmly on the ground to make music that is out of this world.
Words: Andrew Gutteridge