Walking across the Forum parking lot to see ELO for the first time, it hit me that I’ve probably seen more aging rockers play shows over the years than I can remember. It is impossible to try and remember all the bands, shows, etc., I’ve seen over the past 40 years, let alone my favorites. Last night Mr. T asked me to name my 5 favorite shows of all time, and I was at a loss, because I know there would be many I wouldn’t recall.
As far as kicking ass goes, no sexagenarian has done it better than Iggy. I saw the reformed Stooges several times on their reunion tours in the 2000s thanks to an old friend who’d been tour managing the Iggy-less reformed Stooges ever since they’d climbed back on stage opening up for Dinosaur Jr. Iggy, Ron, and Scott
were a bit older than the Minutemen’s Mike Watt, who’d been drafted in as bassman, but the 3 original O-minds were as intense and unhinged as they’d ever been. Other stellar performances I’ve witnessed by guys in their 60s and 70s include Dylan, Sean Bonniwell (Music Machine), Nik Turner (Hawkwind), Niney The Observer, Buck Dharma/Eric Bloom (Blue Oyster Cult), Elvin Jones, Gil Scott-Heron…there are too many to recount.
It is hard to appreciate what it takes for a 70 year old to command a rock and roll stage the way he did when he was 20, or even 30, yet there are guys who get up there and still give it 1000%. Iggy was like that. Nik Turner and Niney were like that. BOC was like that, too. Last night another legendary septuagenarian took the stage, the incomparably prolific orchestral pop rock master, Jeff Lynne, and his current version of ELO. I can’t say that Lynne wholly reached the intensity of his younger days, but he was steady, solid, in great voice, and was leading a much younger backing band.
This was ELO’s first North American tour in 35 years, and while it didn’t necessarily have me seeing ELO in a new light, it definitely reinforced why I love their music and legacy. The performance successfully and potently evoked the essence of ELO in a live setting, which I’d never experienced in person. Jeff seemed a little frail, didn’t do all the singing or take all the solos as he once did, but he anchored the whole thing and made the production far more than the sum of the individual musicians. Lynne also had longtime ELO band-mate Richard Tandy on piano and moog, lending the act additional authenticity.
I had taken care to be psychically prepared to climb aboard the ELO spacecraft by eating a package of sweet and sour medicated gummies made by Sugar Stoned (300mg) during the ride to the show (T drove). I topped ‘em off with a half-gram Chemdawg pre-roll of Henry’s Original Smokes, on the walk from the car to the stadium entrance. I shared the pre-roll with Mr. T, who hit it like a cigarette and coughed up a storm. We were just in time for the opening band, who were stereotypically bland and uninteresting, so we hit the lobby and grabbed a few beers, instead. There was a crazy cross section of So Cal styles, types, age groups to ogle…any permutation of So Cal culture you can imagine was in attendance. I accompanied Mr. T out for one last cigarette (for him) and while he puffed it, added a maricap to my enhanced viewing sensibilities. We returned to our seats, which were pretty great, just as the last of the Travelling Willburys filler music faded out. Comfortably situated, we watched as…wham…the spaceship landed and the opening strains of “Evil Woman” filled the arena.
Seeing ELO live, with all the lights and video projections is like climbing aboard their Out of the Blue spacecraft and joining them on a musical journey through the ages. I was too busy digging the experience and taking pics and vids to note the complete set list, but I did find it on line. Lynne & co. played pretty much all the songs from their greatest hits collections with the exception of “Strange Magic”, one of my personal faves, particularly because of the phased guitar. But that was the only omission in an otherwise comprehensive set. The songs that stood out the most really depended on which were already your favorites. I have several ELO songs on my drum playlist and know them intimately, and it is the ones I enjoy playing drums with the most that really hit home. My favorite tracks were “Mr Blue Sky”, “Do Ya”, “10538 Overture” and “Livin’ Thing”. Why?
I’ve always dug “Livin’ Thing”. The haunting ghost vocal wailing (“I’m takin’ a dive…off the stage”), the caution from the backing singers (“Don’t you do it / Don’t you do it”) and the rest of the lyrics describing an extreme sense of hopelessness weighed against the drive to find the will to live. “Do Ya”, originally a song by Lynne’s prior band, The Move, and the early ELO pop masterpiece “10538 Overture,” were both rocking and rollicking, scream out loud anthems, both bringing a nostalgic tear to the old eye. “Mr Blue Sky” incorporated all the Beatlesisms infused in the original – have you ever noticed how much it is like the middle section of the Beatles “A Day in the Life”? – and the backing singers and strings players and keyboardists were phenomenal in evoking the orchestral beams of electric light we were witnessing. “10538” reminded me that Cheap Trick were hugely influenced by ELO and stole the opening of that song for their “Downed”.
When the show was finally over and the lights returned, Mr. T and I felt a twinge of disappointment that the show hadn’t been longer. I guess the motto about always leaving ‘em wanting more rings true…except that I’m not so sure ELO will ever be back to LA. Jeff really is looking a little weak. Lets hope he comes back and includes “Strange Magic” in the set next time. There were other highlights in the show including an incredible young drummer (Donavan Hepburn). The encore was only a single song, “Roll Over Beethoven”, played as well and as rocking as ever, but even with the powerful orchestral intro of Beethoven’s 5th, it wasn’t the encore I wanted. I wanted “Strange Magic”. They left me wanting more. If I could’ve changed anything about the show, it would’ve been to swap out “Roll Over Beethoven” for “Strange Magic”. But it is the imperfections as much as the perfections that make our experiences memorable, so I’m good with it.
Mr. T was all sobered up by the time we drove through Inglewood to get to the 105 and home. I was still feeling pretty elevated and perfectly happy about my live ELO experience. I was starving, though, as I hadn’t had any dinner, so I made myself a sandwich when I got home and remembered all the greatness of seeing Jeff Lynne’s ELO.
Here’s what they treated us to:
Standin’ in the Rain
All Over the World
When I Was a Boy
Handle with Care (Traveling Wilburys cover)
Can’t Get It Out of My Head
Shine a Little Love
Wild West Hero
Sweet Talkin’ Woman
Don’t Bring Me Down
Turn To Stone
Mr. Blue Sky
Encore: Roll Over Beethoven