Live In Hyde Park (DVD)

Jeff Lynne's ELO

Eagle Vision, 2015

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


What, after all, would rock and roll be without ego?

The question feels rather inevitable after taking in the spectacle that is the latest release—the concert DVD Live In Hyde Park—from Jeff Lynne’s ELO, the artist(s) formerly known as the Electric Light Orchestra.

The ELO family tree is rather notoriously tangled, of course. Ever since co-founder Roy Wood departed in 1972, Lynne has been the driving creative force behind the band, its chief songwriter, lead voice, lead guitarist, producer and mastermind. But despite the impression left by modern-era releases Zoom and now Live In Hyde Park that ELO exists entirely within the imagination of Jeff Lynne, for most of its 1975-1982 heyday ELO was in fact a functioning band featuring the considerable talents and contributions of keyboardist Richard Tandy, bassist/backing vocalist Kelly Groucutt, drummer Bev Bevan, and string players Mik Kaminski, Melvyn Gale and Hugh McDowell.

Of course, by the time ELO called it quits the first time around in 1986, the band was down to Lynne, Tandy and Bevan, and the group’s ill-fated stepchild ELO Part II slogged onwards for a decade-plus with Bevan as the only founding member present. Once Lynne bought Bevan’s share of the ELO name back in 2000, he held 100 percent control over the group’s legacy, which is neither entirely fair nor terribly unjust.

This concert DVD chronicles Lynne’s first live performance in 28 years, fronting a 12-person band with multiple keyboards (the one center stage manned by Tandy, the only familiar face from past ELO lineups), background vocalists and percussionists, plus, oh yeah, the entire BBC Concert Orchestra. Even with all that going on around him, the centerpiece of the show remains Lynne and his distinctive, keening voice. And you have to hand it to him there—a lot of vocalists lose range as they age, but in his mid-60s, Lynne can still swing from his normal singing voice to falsetto and back with practiced ease.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The setlist covers almost all the highlights from ELO’s considerable oeuvre, from breakthrough singles like “Evil Woman” and “Livin’ Thing” to disco-influenced hits like “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” and “Turn To Stone,” even turning back the clock all the way to early milestones like the superb, rather proggy “10538 Overture” and the raucous “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.” The band reproduces the original studio recordings with remarkable fidelity, a testimony to Lynne’s exacting standards as a producer/arranger, and the crowd is way into it, singing and dancing and clapping along to every familiar tune.

The pickings are naturally much thinner from latter days, as the band tailed off pretty severely after 1979’s Discovery (represented here by “Don’t Bring Me Down”). In fact, the only two songs that post-date it are the bounding, ’50s-flavored “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King,” from 1983’s Secret Messages, and the Traveling Wilburys cover “Handle With Care.” The latter tune, co-written by the entire Wilburys lineup of Lynne, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, is indeed rendered with great care and affection, and dedicated to Harrison and Orbison.

The show is, in essence, a celebration of ELO’s unique facility for crafting “classical pop,” the imaginative hybrid first explored on the Beatles’ Sgt, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour releases. The only classic ELO tracks that feel like they’re missing here are a cover of a Beatles cover (the group’s superb take on Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”) and a handful of similarly upbeat album cuts like “Do Ya” and “Rockaria.” It seems middle-aged Lynne just isn’t into rocking out full bore any more.

This DVD package also includes the 60-minute career-spanning bio Mr. Blue Sky: The Story Of Jeff Lynne & ELO. The last two words of that title are basically a footnote; this is the Lynne story start to finish, but it’s quite engrossing at that, focusing at least as much on the maestro’s notable work with the Wilburys (individually and collectively) and the Beatles as on ELO or even his solo work.

Next up for the seemingly rejuvenated Lynne is another release under the “Jeff Lynne’s ELO” banner called Alone In The Universe, further cementing the impression that, in Lynne’s view, the entire ELO legacy exists only as a subset of Jeff Lynne, Inc. Indeed, a September 26 post on ELO‘s Facebook page casually refers to “Jeff Lynne, the creative genius behind ELO…” without a hint of self-consciousness or irony. One could of course blame this on an over-zealous intern, but the man’s own documentary bio includes a quote early on referring to him as “a control freak.” It’s remarkable to think a creative force of Lynne’s stature and accomplishments could still be insecure enough to engage in this sort of puffery.

Oh well. The music is excellent, and the stories entertaining. Enjoy.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2015 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eagle Vision, and is used for informational purposes only.