ELO lit my socks on fire last Thursday. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a show where I knew every word, in fact, every note of every song. Seeing ELO in the flesh was like a huge Thanksgiving Day spread of Reeces Pieces seasonal cups. And once that candy started flowing, I gorged until I had to loosen my belt. Electric Light Orchestra has been a staple in my musical diet since my very earliest days, and seeing them for the first time was beyond thrilling. The show blew past my modest expectations and sent me reeling across the time warp to the 1970s, a decade I never experienced, but imagine was just people in bell bottoms flying around in space ships.
Jeff Lynne, the band’s long standing brain child, now 71, is a Madame Tussaud’s wax version of himself: perfectly preserved and hardly moving. Unlike other rock legends who have undergone countless physical transformations, such as David Bowie and Peter Gabriel, Jeff Lynne seems to have come out of his mama in the same dusty jacket, sunglasses, and Jewfro he wears today. I can only imagine what his walk-in closet must look like. Or, if he’s been wearing the literal same clothes every night since the 70’s, what he must smell like. But there’s one aspect of Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra that warrants no scrutiny: what they sound like.
Presenting in full ensemble, ELO boasted incredible musicians and string players who recreated all of the classic hits of the 70s and 80s with vigorous stadium pomp. From the opening piano riff of “Evil Woman” to the whimsical march of “Mr. Blue Sky,” I was dancing, disco clapping, and loudly singing along from start to finish. The best part about being a 35-year-old at an ELO concert is all the pineapple shirted boomers who look at you incredulously like, “HEY! YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO KNOW THIS MUSIC!” Ummm… every Spanish language station in my area got thrown off the air to accommodate another one of your dick rock stations, so yeah, I heard this music a lot. And for every Bad Company and Doobie Brother you forced into my ear holes, there was an occasional ELO that made your hegemony more bearable.
I first came across ELO while thumbing through my dad’s record collection looking for some hot n crunchy prog. I was obsessed with rock/classical cross over bands like ELP and I thought: ELO – ELP… probably the same, right? Besides the spaceship on the cover looked like the super high tech SIMON game I got for Christmas in 1993. When I stuck the record on, I was shocked and appalled: this is just pop music with strings! It took me a few weeks to understand what gold I had discovered.
ELO has the three most important X factors in making a great band: 1.) outrageously catchy 2.) heavily creativity driven and 3.) not afraid of disco. Seriously, I wonder how many future “Bikers for Trump” shat on ELO for cosying up to the Disco craze of the 1970s; Jeff Lynne didn’t care. In fact, with his title contribution to Xanadu, which is Olivia Newton John’s Citizen Kane, it’s clear that if there were any taunts, ELO only doubled down. The result is a band that to this day rocks while also infecting you with the desire to dance. And not the way your mom’s friend Debbie dances while she tries to drunkenly grope your visiting college roommate Todd (ugh… chill, Debbie, PLEASE!), but in true Xanadu form, under the disco ball of Studio 54 at the end of a long line of blow.
ELO still kicks ass, even after all these years. Sure, Jeff Lynne is kind of a frozen statue and half the lead lines are sung by a much younger, much prettier touring professional (how do I get that gig?), but the experience is worth the ticket. Every ELO song still has the same power it had so many years ago when Jeff Lynne was an exact copy of his current leather jacketed, jewfro’d self. Like the band’s founding member, the music hasn’t changed a single iota, and in a world that has changed and distorted so much around ELO, that’s precisely what makes it worth it.