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Live Review and Photo Gallery: Jeff Lynne’s ELO with Dhani Harrison at United Center

| July 28, 2019

Jeff Lynne’s ELO
United Center, Chicago, IL
Saturday, July 27, 2019

After a 37-year gap as of 2018, many Chicago-based fans of the Electric Light Orchestra had resigned themselves to enjoying their favorite ELO music through their record collections – or perhaps by catching “Mr. Blue Sky” on repeated views of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But on Saturday night, the Wurlitzer jukebox spaceship landed in Chicago for a second time in recent memory. The concert at United Center was just three weeks shy of a year since Jeff Lynne’s ELO performed at Allstate Arena. On the band’s 2019 jaunt, Chicago was among few cities to receive a return visit.

Lynne claimed to be as pleasantly surprised as anybody. “I can’t believe we’re back here already,” said Lynne after playing “Evil Woman” and sending greetings to all of Chicago. “Thank you for coming. It sounds like you’re in really good form.”

The show had opened with the grandeur of “Standing in the Rain” from 1977’s Out of the Blue. In addition to its core rock and roll engine, Lynne’s lineup included three keyboardists, two cellists and a violinist to help create ELO’s symphonic sound. Violinist Jessie Murphy was featured during the melodramatic opening of “Livin’ Thing,” and soprano Melanie Lewis McDonald took the spotlight on the operatic introduction to “Rockaria!”

The set list was a true-blue crowd-pleaser, packing 20 hits into a 95-minute set. Diehard fans probably hoped for the reemergence of a deep cut like “Steppin’ Out” or a fresh dusting of “Twilight” from 1981’s Time album, but it was hard to complain. “Strange Magic” was among the minimal number of conspicuous omissions.

Much of the set mirrored what Lynne and his 12-piece band played last year, but there were additions and enhancements. “Last Train to London” was a fresh selection from 1979’s Discovery album, joining the club-friendly “Shine a Little Love” (replete with hand-clap breakdown and classic ‘70s laser-light show) and rock stomper “Don’t Bring Me Down,” given pile-driving percussion by drummer Donovan Hepburn. “Last Train to London” gave bassist Lee Pomeroy time to shine as he tackled the song’s galloping disco riff and tricky fills with a thousand-watt smile on his face. Lynne tweaked the evening’s pacing by moving the placement of songs including “Telephone Line.”

Among the thousands gathered at United Center, there were surely a couple of cross-genre fans who had seen country heartbreak maven John Paul White of The Civil Wars perform his beautifully reinvented version of “Can’t Get it Out of My Head” at Lincoln Hall just two nights earlier. But here at United Center was the original writer, singing the melancholy masterpiece in full flourish with breathtaking instrumentation.

The showstopper was the surprise appearance of opening act Dhani Harrison, who stood in for his late father George during a rollicking romp through “Handle With Care” by what Lynne referred to as “my other group, the Traveling Wilburys.” The younger Harrison‘s opening set had featured spacefaring psych-pop from his 2017 album IN///PARALLEL and prior band thenewno2, settling more closely to the Radiohead and Muse camps than Beatle territory. Still, there was no denying the remarkable similarity of the son’s singing voice to his beloved dad’s warm and tremulous tenor. Images behind the band reminded of the crowd of Tom Petty and Roy Orbison, also dearly departed from the Wilburys lineup.

The newest song aired was “When I Was a Boy” from 2015’s Alone in the Universe. Lynne packed the song’s lilting melody with drama and sentiment, supported by a descending chord progression reminiscent of Mott the Hoople and David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes.” It fit as a worthy addition to the ELO canon, and implied that Lynne has ample fuel left in the songwriting tank for lovers of the classic ELO sound.

As the big night neared its apex, Marcus Byrne duplicated original ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy’s robotic vocoder hook to Out of the Blue’s “Sweet Talkin’ Woman.” Following the adrenaline rush of “Turn to Stone” and the euphoric “Mr. Blue Sky” from the same album, Lynne and company left the stage.

The band returned for an encore of the song that informed the band’s blueprint, Chuck Berry’s immortal “Roll Over Beethoven.” Another visit in 2020 may be too much to expect, but thousands of Chicago fans will be ready to sing along anytime Lynne wants to set the spaceship down in the VIP lot and gather them for a trip through musical galaxies both familiar and unknown. Beam me up, Jeff!

Review by Jeff Elbel; Photo by Ed Spinelli (gallery appears soon)


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Category: Live Reviews

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  1. Tom Drake says:

    Great review of a great band. thanks. I could not make the concert last night (regretably).

    Saw ELO in 1974 in PA. Still one of my all time favorites. The Wembley or Bust movie on Showtime was a 10.

  2. Eileen Glass says:

    I was sorely disappointed the band omitted ‘Strange Magic’. I am a relatively new fan. But the rest of the show was ‘magic’.

  3. Louis Davis says:

    NO wonder why you read in so many reviews that Jeff Lynne’s ELO is the best live classic Rock Band in the world…Best Sound, best vocals, best musicians and best visuals. Among all the Legendary bands i have seen, Jeff Lynne’s ELO is the very best live band…Not even close. Long live Jeff Lynne’s ELO!!! Please Tour again in 2020.

  4. Betsy says:

    It was the first time I had seen Jeff Lynne in concert after being a fan all my life. I brought my 14 yo son, who was introduced to ELO via movie soundtracks and he was ecstatic. We loved every minute of it of this concert.

  5. John Harrold says:

    They did not have any beautiful women in the band when I saw them at Wheeling High School, during the summer of 1973.

    It is too bad that The Move and Roy Wood’s Wizzard did not get much recognition, in the US.

    The other night was fantastic.

  6. Mark says:

    ELO…my favorite since 1977. Tremendous show! 90 minutes felt Ike 10. Came all the way from central Texas to see it. Brought my 13-year-old son. He’s been force fed “my” music his whole life so he loved the show too. We had a great time for our few days in Chicago. Fun city!

  7. Robin says:

    Awesome photographs!

  8. William says:

    I have loved this band, this music for 50 yrs. July 3rd, 2019 one of my dreams was realized. I wish they would return to tour again.

    By the way, by far the best review I have read to date and the pictures are very good also.