Jeff Lynne’s ELO @ Sheffield Arena
For most of the three generations of fan gathered at a sweltering Sheffield Arena tonight, the prospect of seeing the Electric Light Orchestra live is unquestionably a once in a lifetime experience; and befitting of the occasion, Jeff Lynne & Co.’s delivery of the band’s apparently endless array of timeless, string-driven pop-rock anthems is nothing short of spectacular. Celebrating the release of 2015’s Alone In The Universe – their first album since 2001’s Zoom – this South Yorkshire leg of ELO’s latest UK run is Alone In The Universe only by name. By nature, it’s a staggering, twenty-three song career retrospective – featuring just one song from AITU – executed to absolute perfection by Lynne and his breathtaking ensemble of hired guns. As the thirteen-piece band take the stage to the haunting rainfall sounds of Concerto For A Rainy Day (side three of 1977 magnum opus Out Of The Blue), astonishing opener Standin’ In The Rain – last aired in 1982 – is a clinical masterclass in performance. If Rain’s skyscraping majesty is better appreciated in a sort of stunned silence, the same cannot be said for Evil Woman, as the indelible classic prompts most of a euphoric audience to receive the song standing. And if that wasn’t inspiration enough, the uplifting disco-rock of All Over The World really gets the party started, with the last few reluctant revellers leaving their seats. While the impossibly cool, unassuming Lynne is, of course, the ticket-shifting star of the show, his backing band are far from humble, peripheral figures, with each musician afforded their moment in the limelight. Particularly cellists Jess Cox & Amy Langley, and the latter’s violinist sister, Rosie, who supply the prominent string textures of Showdown and Livin’ Thing in impeccable fashion, while backing vocalist Melanie Lewis-McDonald lets rip on Rockaria! and Xanadu – the part originally sang by Olivia Newton-John on the musical’s accompanying soundtrack album of the same name. By the time we’re treated to fine renditions of Last Train In London – also aired last in 1982 – and 10538 Overture, it becomes apparent that, with the very best yet to come, ELO’s rich catalogue is quite remarkable. Hundreds of lighters are held aloft for Wild West Hero, as the Langley sisters take centre stage once again to usher in Sweet Talkin’ Woman, triggering the loudest roars heard on Broughton Lane all evening. Only the likes of Turn To Stone and the unmistakable Mr. Blue Sky could possibly top such a crescendo; and with the pair still in reserve, the band seemingly bring an end to one of the most special shows Sheffield has witnessed in many a year, before a visibly exhausted Lynne returns to the stage once more to lead his band through a rip-roaring encore cover of Chuck Berry classic Roll Over Beethoven. After a month defined by untold fear and uncertainty, the music of ELO – Jeff Lynne’s extraordinary life’s work – made perfect sense tonight.