The first album I bought was Out Of The Blue. The Electric Light Orchestra, that album, and those which followed and preceded it were the soundtrack to my childhood. The ELO obsession has followed me into middle age. I’m the sort of guy who can sing: “Yes, I’m turning to stone ‘cos you ‘ain’t coming home. Why aren’t you coming home if I’m turning to stone? You’ve been gone for so long and I can’t carry on. Yes, I’m turning, I’m turning, I’m turning to stone” at full speed without pausing for breath or breaking into a sweat. Kind of annoying for non-ELO fans at dinner parties, but very handy tonight at Wembley Stadium.
I wasn’t old enough to have witnessed the classic ELO line up perform at the height of their powers. I did see The Electric Light Orchestra Part II (a number of the original members, bar Lynne, plus the Moscow Symphony Orchestra) at Wembley Arena in the early ‘90s. It was good, but ELO without Lynne is the ‘Stones without Jagger or Radiohead without Yorke. Ultimately, what’s the point? I was resigned to carrying the ELO itch that wouldn’t be scratched forever – and then, Joy! Lynne was coaxed (by Chris Evans) out of seemingly permanent live retirement in 2014 to revisit his greatest works in the guise of Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Hyde Park followed. The excellent album Alone In The Universe followed that, as did an arena tour including Glastonbury in 2016, and now a short stadium tour in 2017. Let’s just hope this isn’t it.
I was in attendance at the O2 last year. We had seats at the side so high up our heads protruded the Ozone Layer. It was brilliant, but clear that the lightshow was designed for the lucky people stage front. When Wembley was announced, we made sure we had those seats. I got a photo pass for this one too and was ironically escorted to a position much worse than my own from which to snap three songs. Despite the stage being in a different postcode, we did our best. Then I got escorted out so I could be escorted back in again (don’t ask) and I settled down to enjoy the rest of the performance.
Although technically a show that continues to promote Alone In The Universe, the hard-sell starts and ends on the tour shirts. Jeff knows what the fans want, and what the fans want is vintage ELO. The only nod to the latest recording was the single When I was A Boy and it came early. There were, however, a couple of other excursions off-piste. “Something from the other band” (Handle With Care by The Travelling Wilburys, Lynne’s late ‘80’s collaboration with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Tom Petty) and “This one will be a surprise” (unless you’d printed and memorised the Sheffield Arena set list), Xanadu, from the 1980 film of the same name starring Olivia Newton-John.
No reference was made to Newton-John’s current health situation (Jeff doesn’t say much), though he did find time to note the absence on stage of Richard Tandy, ace pianist and the only other seminal ELO member in the new incarnation. Tandy has evidently been unwell but plans to rejoin the live band are afoot in due course. Let’s hope so. Would I prefer to hear the Wilburys and Xanadu at the expense of, say; Tightrope, So Fine or Mission (A World Record)? Most certainly not – but Lynne could probably put the contents of a West Midlands phone directory to music and it would be a work of art, so we can excuse him this minor indulgence.
That he had to leave some great stuff out was inevitable, but there were still plenty of classics to go around. Just about every era was well catered for. Older stuff: Showdown, 10538 Overture, Ma Ma Ma Belle (an extra bonus that wasn’t played in Sheffield), Can’t Get It Out Of My Head – which was stunning and greeted by hundreds of phone torches from the stands, and of course, Evil Woman.
The classic era when the band were truly in the ascendancy was well catered for. Livin’ Thing was marked out by the stunning violin intro of Rosie Langley, and Rockaria! by the stunning vocal intro of Melanie Lewis-McDonald. By the end of Rockaria!, my vocal chords were lying in shreds on the Wembley pitch. Mind you, it is quite a demanding song and Lynne’s only obvious concession to his sixty-nine years is that he shares the vocal in the verses with backing singer Iain Hornal. Telephone Line, also from the 1976 album A New World Record, was just fantastic and met with communal singing that echoed around the stadium. It was truly emotive stuff and must have sounded incredible on the stage.
From Out Of The Blue the show opened with Standin’ In The Rain (not played since 1982) and we heard Wild West Hero (which again had massive crowd singing and thousands of phone torches held aloft), Sweet Talkin’ Woman, Turn To Stone, and inevitably Mr Blue Sky, which closed the main set.
The 1979 Discovery disco era was represented by Last Train To London (again not played since 1982) and Shine A Little Love – a song accompanied by enough lasers to be a hazard to air navigation.
The O2 show I saw last year was bereft of any music from the electronic themed album Time, the first release after the departure from the band of the string players, and the last ELO record I ever bought. That was rectified tonight, signified by a backdrop of an old analogue synth covered in ELO branded knobs on the video screens behind the stage. The first two tracks from Time, Prologue and Twilight were played in sequence and I loved every second of it.
The lightshow and general staging was all I’d imagined it to be and more. There was an ELO spaceship above the stage that looked like it should have been able to climb and descend, though sadly it didn’t. The encore was as expected the Chuck Berry classic, Roll Over Beethoven. Berry didn’t do it with cellos and violins, but then again Lynne didn’t duck walk around the stage either. You can’t have it all.
And that was that. Two hours of sublime, emotive nostalgia, lapped up by everyone. Until next time Jeff, next time. There will be a next time, won’t there Jeff? Please let there be a next time…
Review & Photography by Simon Reed. Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Wembley Stadium on 24th June 2017.
Simon has his own music photography site here: http://www.musicalpictures.co.uk