It is hard to find an artist who has been dormant from the stage for so long and has come back with enough fan support to sell out three nights at the Hollywood Bowl.
Jeff Lynne has hardly been hibernating since I first saw Electric Light Orchestra in concert in the mid 1970s (40 years ago almost to the day, in fact). By the ’80s Lynne let the band drift while he undertook some high profile production duties in the ensuing decades. Benefiting from Lynne’s studio wizardry were the likes of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty…hello Traveling Wilburys.
A surprisingly strong return to form was delivered with last year’s album Alone in the Universe, which nicely set up Lynne’s current tour.
The middle night of his stand at the venerable Bowl featured the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra opening with a thirty minute précis refracting influences like Elgar and Vaughn Williams.
But the audience was there to see and hear Lynne’s melding of lush orchestrations with rock stylings.
The eponymous ear worm of “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” was the evening’s first highlight. Making full use of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and his band’s string section, Lynne’s hypnotic refrain was intoxicating. The fog machines and lasers were in full effect.
The concert setting had me focusing on Lynne’s lyrics, which are shockingly simple. Oddly, I was put in mind of another band from the same era, from the opposite end of the musical spectrum, as both bands took infectious melodies and shallow lyrics to the top of the charts: America. And to stretch the tenuous connection further, George Martin lent his production hand to America on a few albums, as did Lynne for the Beatles on “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.”
In any event, Lynne was undoubtedly pleased at the strong reception to his broad set list. With an army of cello players, a bevy of violinists and a phalanx of keyboard players, Lynne built a wall of sound.
Lynne was never fully comfortable onstage, but he stood center stage with his Gibson guitar and aplomb. Notably, there are only five shows (in two venues) listed on his site.
“Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” bulked up the second half of the set in satisfying fashion. For the latter song, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra set down their instruments and enjoyed the crowd’s boisterous reception.
Also well-received was “10583 Overture” which Lynne mentioned was the first song the band ever recorded. I had forgotten how frequently Lynne dropped in a vocorder to his songs, but his longtime piano player Richard Tandy reminded us.
A custom light show for the Bowl effectively used the shell as a visual palate, incorporating ELO’s iconography. As one of the first bands to legally use lasers on stage, ELO continues to push the edge of the envelope with musical eye candy.
But the encore was the perfect blend of the evening’s elements. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra played the first bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in full orchestral mode, the stage lights dimmed, then Lynne’s guitar played the scorching intro to “Roll Over Beethoven” and the synchronized fireworks exploded above the roaring crowd. It is doubtful Chuck Berry envisioned such a performance when he penned the song all those years ago, but it has certainly become a classic. Indeed, the tune ideally captured Lynne’s dual love of orchestration and rock stylings.