Jeff Lynne’s ELO | BBC Radio 2’s Festival in a Day in Hyde Park, September 14, 2014
A review by Alan Haber
“Yes, I’m turnin’ to stone ‘cos you ain’t comin’ home, why you ain’t comin’ home if I’m turnin’ to stone? You’ve been gone for so long and I can’t carry on, yes I’m turnin’, I’m turnin’, I’m turnin’ to stone!” Jeff Lynne steps back from the microphone with a slight step and suddenly, as if he were the only performer on stage in front of 50,000 young and old and in-between fans, draws a wide smile on his face–a self-congratulatory attaboy for his seemingly effortless skill employed during the fast, percussive, staccato lyrics coming just before the last verse in the song “Turn to Stone,” the opening salvo from 1977’s Electric Light Orchestra double album, Out of the Blue, which is only fitting as that pair of couplets was delivered to the Hyde Park crowd in double time, and here was Birmingham, England’s native son effectively saying “It’s been 37 years since I recorded that and I can still shoot it out at you.” Looking trim in a black suit, white shirt and a rock ‘n’ roll attitude, Jeff Lynne advanced a small step back to the microphone and continued on with the song.
“I turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone,” he sang, steeped in classic mode. “Turn to stone when you comin’ home, I can’t go on.” Then: “Turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone,” but there is no stone here on this night, Sunday, September 14, 2014, undercover of the night, the night having fallen but the lights bright, gleaming from the stage onto the crowd hungry for more, bowing to their hero, a light shining through the shadows of the night. “I’ll just sit tight, through the shadows of the night,” come the words of “Telephone Line,” “Let it ring for evermore.”
And so it did for 80 minutes, give or take, as part of BBC Radio 2’s Festival in a Day, which also featured other artists who performed their hearts out, but during these moments, the only hearts that were beating from the stage were Jeff Lynne’s and ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy’s and a host of other top-notch, invested performers’, merrily augmented by live strings from the BBC Concert Orchestra, the members of which were caught smiling every now and again, and when the string players are smiling you know, in your heart of hearts, something is up.
Lynne’s set was perfectly executed and perfectly modulated with highs and more highs and yet more highs keeping the flow magical from first song to last. Opening with a spirited surprise–“All Over the World,” from the film Xanadu–ELO’s main man played the hits, pretty much just like on the record, as God intended. Except during the lone encore, a wild and wooly, balls to the wall rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” during which Lynne’s fierce electric guitar runs and Tandy’s Jerry Lee Lewis piano took center stage as the orchestra dug into their violins and cellos and the drummer drummed like there was no tomorrow and the various other guitar players and percussionists whooped it up as if in the eye of the rock ‘n’ roll storm. Lynne, particularly, relished the chance to channel his bodacious, rocking inner child, pulling off a fireworks-worthy series of rockin’ guitar runs that threatened to set the stage on fire.
Along the way, the 66-year-old-as-his-younger-self played through the highlights of his catalog, adding in a track from Xanadu and the song that started off the legacy of the Traveling Wilburys, “Handle with Care,” which began life as a b-side knocked off in Bob Dylan’s home studio and instead became the firing pin that set off the Wilbury’s album explosion and legacy. Lynne dedicated the song to the late George Harrison and the late Roy Orbison, two of the five souls and beating hearts of the band.
Lynne seemed genuinely surprised to be greeted by the expansive sea of fans swimming along to the tunes. And so many of them, too–baby boomers and relative babies too young to have been alive when the Electric Light Orchestra began. Thanking the audience every chance he got, he played and sang assuredly, even reaching the dreaded high notes with absolute musical certainty. He switched from electric Gibson to acoustic goodness and remembered all of the words. He brought past triumphs into today’s universe and every light in the crowd in front of him shined.
Preferring the sanctity of the studio over live performance, Lynne may or may not engage Tandy and players to be named later on a tour of Britain. Maybe the US? TBD. For now, there is the pickup and refreshing of Hyde Park, a thing of beauty on any given day, now reverberating with the ghosts of sounds that populated the grounds last night. For the families and pensioners and dog walkers navigating the length of the park, there will be suspicious memories of a wonderful concert from the night before. For people who couldn’t be there as the notes flew out of the collection of sacred instruments on stage, there is always the Internet, where Lynne’s masterful gift to the people will hopefully live on forever.
From “Can’t Get it Out of My Head” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” to “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll is King”–from “Mr. Blue Sky” to “Strange Magic”–these are the sounds that have stuck in the collective consciousness for decades and still live as breathing objects. This was a reverberating chunk of the Festival in a Day, a living thing that will last a lifetime, for evermore.
September 16, 2014
Click here to watch Jeff Lynne’s ELO perform “Mr. Blue Sky” at BBC 2’s Festival in a Day (BBC website).
Click here to watch Jeff Lynne’s ELO perform “Roll Over Beethoven” at BBC 2’s Festival in a Day (BBC website).