If there is a more pristine-sounding concert in recent memory than Jeff Lynne’s ELO, please enlighten.
Performing in Atlanta for the first time since 1981 at The Omni, Lynne, a melodic wizard with a gift for making classical, rock and disco comfortably co-exist, brought a robust musical chronicle to State Farm Arena on Friday.
And it looked and sounded stupendous.
The 71-year-old is still sporting dark, shaggy hair, shaded glasses and a beard, so this time warp – mostly to the ‘70s, with a longed-for detour into Traveling Wilburys-ville as well as a lovely recent ballad – was easily accepted.
While the glory years of smoke-spewing spaceships onstage are (thankfully?) over, Lynne still knows how to complement his music with visual stimulation. Towers of cascading lights nestled among five vertical video panels that relayed vibrant images, while emerald-colored lasers popped up for “Shine a Little Love” and the beautifully haunting “Telephone Line.”
A 20-song setlist was dotted with historical footnotes, such as “10538 Overture,” the inaugural ELO single from their 1972 debut album (known in the U.S. as “No Answer”) and “Xanadu,” the underappreciated, mellifluous title track of the the much-maligned 1980 Olivia Newton-John movie (the ELO-heavy soundtrack, however, spawned six hits and sold 2 million copies).
» GALLERY: Jeff Lynne’s ELO dazzles at Atlanta show
The familiar piano intro to “Evil Woman” from keyboardist Marcus Byrne inspired the first singalong of the night from the sold-out crowd, which reveled in not only the memories provided by “Do Ya” and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” but the songs’ stunning live reproduction.
Though ELO (which Lynne refers to with his name to prevent confusion with imitators) is Lynne’s heartbeat, he is joined by a squad of top-drawer talent, including bassist Lee Pomeroy, guitarist and musical director Mike Stevens and MVP backup singer and guitarist Iain Hornal.
Two cellists (Amy Langley and Jess Cox) and a violinist (Jessie Murphy) provided the juicy texture on so many classics from the ELO oeuvre (“Livin’ Thing,” “Turn to Stone”), while backup singer Melanie Lewis-McDonald added a touch of opera to “Rockaria!”
These are not easy songs to duplicate live – Lynne’s infatuation with studio work as a producer is legendary – making the five-part harmonies on “All Over the World” and “Wild West Hero” not only impressive, but chill-inducing in their perfection.
Lynne isn’t much of a talker, but that wasn’t a surprise.
“It’s been so long,” he said early in the 100-minute concert, acknowledging the 35-plus years since ELO’s last Atlanta appearance. “I can’t imagine how long it was.”
That, plus some genuine “thanks” between songs and claps for the audience, comprised the majority of Lynne’s interaction.
But when you can strum a dreamy ballad (“When I Was a Boy,” from 2015’s “Alone in the Universe”) and uncork a sumptuous Beatles homage (“Mr. Blue Sky”) in the same show, who needs talking?
A highlight of the night included opening act Dhani Harrison, who, after playing 45 minutes of his own mystical guitar-driven rock, returned to join old friend Lynne on a moving rendition of The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care.”
Harrison’s vocal similarities to father George are eerie, but it was singer Hornal, channeling Roy Orbison, who raised even more eyebrows. As old footage of the supergroup played behind ELO (cheers erupted at the first sight of Tom Petty with Bob Dylan, the only living member along with Lynne), the band presented an aural blanket with the song.
When Lynne announced he was taking ELO back on the road – first for a 2017 European tour, then a quick U.S. spin last summer and now for this run of 20 dates until Aug. 1. – fans thrilled at the possibility of hearing some of these layered gems for the first time in decades.
They will undoubtedly walk away impressed with the show’s flawlessness.
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