I just* got back from a downtown palais where the music was so sweet it knocked me right back in the alley.¹ And if anybody’s music can do that, it’s the Electric Light Orchestra’s. ²
Led by Birmingham, England’s Jeff Lynne since mid-1972, E.L.O. gave a powerful concert in Philadelphia Saturday night, July 13th. You’d never know it, but he’ll be 72 on December 30th and he’s still rocking. Lynne’s contingent of 13 musicians and at least that many technicians delivered a fantastic show. His voice is the Electric Light Orchestra’s sound, to which many were first exposed in March, 1975 when I Can’t Get It Out Of My Head peaked at #9 on U.S. charts, their first major hit here.
My friend Gary Skye has now enabled me to see E.L.O. twice in less than one calendar year; we went up there last October and that was a fabulous show, too. The band means something to many people of a certain age and, although Gary had to deal with the kind of health issues that now bedevil many people of a certain age, he was more than kind to give me both tickets. I called Kevin Wade and, like college kids, we spent that Saturday evening at the Wells Fargo Center. After all, where else can you get a bottle of lukewarm soda for only $8.00?
But, I digress.
Jeff opened the show as he did last year, with Standing In The Rain, the first of four songs comprising Concerto For A Rainy Day, the third side of 1977’s Out Of The Blue, the mega-selling album which spawned the celebrated “spaceship” tour. The radio monster from that album, Mr. Blue Sky, gets played on every tour, as does Turn To Stone, also from Out Of The Blue, but Summer And Lightning, the third cut from Concerto For A Rainy Day, never does. It’s my favorite E.L.O. number, so, naturally, I take that as a personal slight. Summer And Lightning is a strongly voiced, andante-paced and largely 12-string acoustic ballad, backed and soaring among plenty of really lush strings (“that E.L.O. feeling”, as I called it in my youth). The refrain is simple but inspiring, as refrains should be. There’s a rhythmic interlude of power bass and funky percussion that sets up the cascading refrain leading into Mr. Blue Sky. It’s solid, pure stratospheric power with no oxygen required.
For a legion of E.L.O. purists, Eldorado remains the band’s highest achievement and Illusions in G-Major is one of the three peaks on that album, along with Boy Blue and I Can’t Get It Out Of My Head. The Illusions, as I call it, (Since we’re old friends I can take that liberty.) is the secret thermonuclear device of 70s songs. No rock-and-roll number explodes into supernova brilliance and roars right at you like a train escaping a tunnel at Mach 3.0 like this extremist interpretation of the art form. In fact, if somebody who was deaf their whole life could suddenly hear, and they asked, “What does real rock-and-roll sound like?”, I would play Illusions in G-Major, since it represents the ultimate heights to which rock can possibly climb. It’s the Heliopause of rock and roll and nobody can touch it.
Jeff Lynne, of course, had another band called The Traveling Wilburys. George Harrison’s son, Dhani, tours with Lynne’s show and they did a strong version of Handle With Care, complete with a few video clips of former band mates, the late Roy Orbison, Dhani’s dad and Tom Petty. They’ll be missed.
The remarkable show offered a series of high points with almost no lows. Immediately afterwards, in the parking lot, I tried to get a few fans to join me in an impromptu E.L.O. sing-a-long, but, Mitch Miller I’m not. We had parked adjacent to the band’s tour bus and, just as the Phillies lost to the Nationals and fireworks were set off anyway, tour cellist Amy Langley emerged virtually alone from the building. I thanked her for the show, too star-struck to say much else.
If Jeff Lynne had shown up, I would have been dumb-struck. On the other hand, maybe he would have joined me for a chorus or two of Summer And Lightning.
*By ‘just’, I mean three Saturdays ago.
¹Lyrics from Rockaria! by Jeff Lynne, ©1976
²You thought I was going to make some crack about the Neon Philharmonic, didn’t you?