Gig review: Jeff Lynne’s ELO at First Direct Arena, Leeds

Jeff Lynne's ELO at First Direct Arena. Picture: Simon Jenkins
Jeff Lynne's ELO at First Direct Arena. Picture: Simon Jenkins
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Simon Jenkins re-connects with the music of his youth as Jeff Lynne’s ELO perform at Leeds Arena.

RARELY can anyone have waited so long between buying a record and seeing the band perform it live.

For me, 1976 was the year of the Electric Light Orchestra, when that year of bewildering, blistering heatwave was soundtracked by songs like Livin’ Thing, Evil Woman and Strange Magic.

Too young, I missed their spectacular show, where the band emerged from a giant circular spaceship parked in the centre of stadium, a pulsating extravaganza of seventies excess.

This time there was no spaceship, but from the three-dimensional son-et-lumiere spectacular for the show’s largely-instrumental opener Tightrope, Jeff Lynne and his band left no doubt that this was to be a visual treat, as well as an aural one.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been to Leeds,” Lynne told the 12,000 who packed the arena on Saturday night. Most, like me, will have thought the opportunity to see them live had long since passed. By the time we spilled out into the warm night, most felt it well worth the wait.

Jeff Lynne's ELO at First Direct Arena. Picture: Simon Jenkins

Jeff Lynne's ELO at First Direct Arena. Picture: Simon Jenkins

Lasers, giant film projections and an astonishing light show dazzled as the hits flowed – Rockaria, Turn to Stone, Don’t Bring Me Down, Telephone Line – along with songs from Lynne’s latest release, Alone In the Universe.

And though he and keyboardist Richard Tandy are the only band members remaining from the spaceship days, it seems strange they cannot trade under the Electric Light Orchestra name. Lynne was the singer, songwriter and life-force of the band, Tandy the architect of its other-worldly sound. The name ‘Jeff Lynne’s ELO’ sounds as though it may be some tribute band, a pale alternative to the similarly-named original.

It’s anything but. Over two hours on Saturday it teleported thousands back to the joyful music of their youth, a 13-strong band complete with trademark string section punching out hit after hit, including a stunning new take on the slowburning Steppin’ Out, a track from their monster-selling double album Out of the Blue.

The set culminated in the ultimate heatwave anthem Mr Blue Sky, before a riotous encore of Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven.

‘It’s the first time I’ve ever been to Leeds,’ Lynne told the 12,000 who packed the arena on Saturday night.

And then it was all over, and a buzzing crowd of happy fifty-somethings was left wondering if they would ever see such a spectacle again.

Maybe not, but as Lynne would say: “Never mind, I’ll remember you this way…”

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