Lynne and an impressive rock ensemble unfurled a high-tech spectacle Tuesday at Grand Rapids Van Andel Arena filled with nostalgic hits. The Local Spins review, photos, set list.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY, SET LIST
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Aside from the robust rendition of “Roll Over Beethoven” that rattled the radio airwaves in early 1973 and put Electric Light Orchestra on the musical map, my real introduction to this British band led by Jeff Lynne came with the album, “On the Third Day,” which spawned what I still consider one of rock’s truly underrated classics, “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.”
Sadly, Jeff Lynne’s ELO – as his touring band is now dubbed – didn’t unearth this gem during its tour stop Tuesday night at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena, though Lynne did roll out the nearly-as-wonderful “Showdown” from the same album.
But that may have been one of the only, and admittedly minor, disappointments in what can only be described as a thoroughly mesmerizing evening of symphonic rock and pop-rock nostalgia from a band that’s unique in the rock pantheon.
This was a nearly non-stop, 1-hour-and-40-minute blast of catchy songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s that likely left many agreeing with Lynne in their post-concert glow, “I can’t get it out of my head.”
From “Standin’ in the Rain” that got things started in high-tech-light-and-video-festooned fashion to “Mr. Blue Sky” that closed out the main set (followed by the as-expected “Roll Over Beethoven” encore), Lynne, his prodigiously talented seven-piece band, a string trio and two backing vocalists delivered a 21-song retrospective that was part pop spectacle, part eye candy and part rock extravaganza led by a 71-year-old guitarist and singer who can still hold his own.
Of course, owing to Lynne’s longstanding reputation as a producer extraordinaire, the stage production was impeccable, from the visuals – five vertical video screens behind the band with imaginative, colorful imagery, lasers and stellar lighting – to the lush sound itself.
DHANI HARRISON IMPRESSES WITH OPENING SET, TRAVELING WILBURYS TRIBUTE
Now, before proceeding further, let’s get a few things out of the way:
• Dhani Harrison opened the evening as part of a riveting five-piece band, unfurling a heavy, atmospheric, somewhat melancholy and thoroughly groovy 40-minute opening set that impressed the heck out of me. Yes, in the apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree department, Dhani resembles his famous Beatle father, George, and even sounds like him at times, with a few Beatlesque moments thrown into the mix. But make no mistake, Dhani’s music is his own fetching slice of rock worthy of deeper investigation.
• There was a jarring glitch as Lynne and band kicked into the second song of the night, 1975’s “Evil Woman,” with the sound completely cutting out for a few seconds. Fortunately for everyone involved, it all quickly kicked back into gear and Lynne didn’t miss a beat.
• Proving that there’s just one small step from symphonic rock to disco, the evening did include two songs from 1979, “Last Train to London” and “Shine a Little Love,” that could have been jettisoned in favor of the aforementioned “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle,” “Strange Magic” or just about anything else from the ELO catalog. But, then again, perhaps that’s just me.
Back to the main thrust of things: Honestly, for those who grew up with ELO’s hit machine (more combined Top 40 hits in the United States and United Kingdom than any other band from 1972 to 1986), there were more highlights in Tuesday’s show than you could shake a drumstick at.
HIGHLIGHTS GALORE, ON-POINT VOCALS
“Do Ya,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Can’t Get it Out of My Head,” “10538 Overture,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Turn to Stone” and “Mr. Blue Sky” not only revved up the near-capacity arena crowd, but delivered on-point instrumentals, vocals and dynamics with the requisite visual pageantry. (Band members and backing vocalists also demonstrated a fair amount of fun campiness throughout the evening.)
With rare exception, Lynne carried his vocals splendidly and tore it up on guitar when required. And while he didn’t banter with the crowd much at all, he was gracious and didn’t resort to rock star posturing – not even once.
Indeed, that graciousness extended to the moment a third of the way into the set when he brought Dhani Harrison back on stage to help sing a non-ELO tune: 1988’s “Handle with Care,” by The Traveling Wilburys super-group which featured Lynne, Bob Dylan and the late George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison.
With images of George, Tom and Roy behind them, it was a performance that oozed poignancy as Dhani shared lead vocal duties and the band delivered a Wilburys-like vibe paying homage to some of rock’s most important heroes.
Count Lynne among those heroes, a guy whose touring version of ELO does nothing but fortify and elevate the legacy of an extraordinary rock ‘n’ roll project.
PHOTO GALLERY: Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Dhani Harrison at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC