To say I was excited at seeing Jeff Lynne and ELO play his home town of Birmingham would be an understatement! I have only see the Jeff Lynne fronted ELO once back at his comeback gig at Hyde Park in 2014.
Billy Lockett was the support, an up and coming singer/songwriter who I had not heard of prior to tonight. Backed by a guitarist and a drummer, with himself centre stage on keyboards, Billy Lockett was impressive with his songs going from the grandiose, to the more reflective.
He has a great ear for melody and impressed the arena crowd, most of whom had taken their seats unlike many rock gigs where the audience prop up the bars during a support act. ‘Fading Into Gray’ was a stand out and I am off to hear more from this artist who is on the up and up.
Jeff Lynne was backed by twelve highly talented musicians, led by musical director Mike Stevens (10CC, Take That), although sadly no Richard Tandy on piano this time around, as he is currently recovering from an illness. Most of the band were at the Hyde Park show in 2014, bar a new string trio – Amy Langley and Jess Cox on cello, Rosie Langley on violin – and keyboards player Jo Webb.
Opening with ‘Standin’ In The Rain’ and what a way to start with an orchestral piece full of strings, keys, guitar and Jeff Lynne’s distinctive vocals that are still sounding good. Added to that it provided the first look at the wondrous light and visuals, an integral part of any ELO performance.
It was a hit filled set including ‘Telephone Line’, ‘Wild West Hero’, a rocking run through ‘Do Ya’, ‘Turn To Stone’ and, being a Saturday night, a little disco in ‘Last Train To London’.
The only time the spotlight literally fell on Jeff Lynne was on the ‘comeback’ single ‘When I Was A Boy’ – the only ELO song recorded since 1980 played this evening. As a fan of many years I would have loved to hear something of the ‘Time’, ‘Secret Messages’ and/or ‘Balance Of Power’ albums. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King’ or ‘Twilight’ would be ideal, although then you have the issue of what to leave out in their place.
A personal highlight was hearing ‘Rockaria!’ performed live with backing vocalist Melanie Lewis-McDonald hitting those operatic high notes perfectly. That made a (relatively) old man very happy indeed.
Jeff Lynne doesn’t really do much in between song chat, even leaving the band introductions to Mike Stevens. He did however give an introduction to his ‘other band’ the Travelling Wilburys, before launching into ‘Handle With Care’, with Iain Hornal taking on the lead vocals. The backing video of the Wilburys was even more poignant given that Tom Petty, George Harrison and Roy Orbison are no longer with us.
The whole band seemed to be having a great time, none more so than bassist Lee Pomeroy (It Bites, Take That) who seemed to be performing the dying fly on stage at one point!
‘Mr Blue Sky’ closed the show in style with every person in the arena singing along, even some of the arena staff. To hear that live is a real musical high point and it is the most recognisable song to any non-ELO fan.
Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ was the encore which allowed the band to have an extended rock ‘n’ roll jam session.
Jeff Lynne was suitably humbled by the reception he received from the audience and long may he continue touring ELO. A wonderful night of classic ELO songs played by a talented set of musicians, with lights and visuals to dazzle and of course, Jeff Lynne at the centre of it all, navigating the ELO spaceship.
Review by Jason Ritchie
Setlist – Standin’ In The Rain/Evil Woman/All Over The World/Showdown/Do Ya’When I Was A Boy/Livin’ Thing/Handle With Care (The Travellng Wilburys)/Last Train to London/10538 Overture/Shine A Little Love/Wild West Hero/Sweet Talkin’ Woman/ Don’t Bring Me Down/Turn To Stone/Mr Blue Sky
Encore: Roll Over Beethoven
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