Pop rock heroes Jeff Lynne’s ELO are still as cool as they’ve ever been, Redbrick Music writer Liv Francis-Pape tells us
Walking into the Arena Birmingham, late, full to the brim with dim sum; the striking feature was the atmosphere of the cues. Amidst the aging rockers, adorned with somewhat outdated Keith Sutherland and Supertramp tees which were, perhaps, a tad disrespectful considering the clothed bands were not the ones on stage, there was a striking mood of anticipation, nostalgia and comradery. Regardless of creed, class or upbringing, each member of the audience were plucked straight from the age of protests and candle-lit pubs, a gang of post-liberal, new wave rockers circa 1970s.
Queuing for the bar may have been one of my highlights of the entire concert. I asked the salt-and-pepper-bearded man ahead of me what the queue was for, and he confirmed my query before enquiring with an undercut of condescension: ‘What are you here for?’. This delightfully patronising question was hit in the stomach when I proudly announced that I was here for ELO. He suffocated himself with a scoff before rhetorically scoffing: ‘You’re below the age range aren’t you?’. Despite the comedic timing and Pinter ambience of the conversation, I entered the stadium, met by a large crowd of (predominantly grey) boogying ex-hippies.
Despite the odd side-looks I received, there wasn’t a moment after the lights waltzed down that I felt displaced. The air was condensed with a hydrofied collectiveness, a physical and visceral joy that embodied itself in jives, ‘dad dances’ and unsynchronised hip sways. Each and every person there had been plucked from their mundane Wednesdays and placed right back in to their youth, they had no cares on their shoulders, no concerns in their knees; everything became a nod to the past long remembered. A condensed beauty in the careless ebullience that bubbled out of each and every audience member enveloped me with an addictive remembrance.
Jeff Lynne may have shared secrets with Mick Jagger, having seemingly aged very little – the only tangible difference being that he had new backing singers. Said singers were equally enchanting, harmonies concocted with electronics in a voltaic symphony unlike any other. The vocals velcroed themselves to the orchestra. Spellbinding violins and other uncontaminated string instruments created a stunning mirage of otherworldliness, a haunting perception of happiness became a poignant result of opposition. The entire set-up was beyond skillful in the way they played on the audience’s expectations, sight and emotions.
The concert had a special, familial romance for me – having grown up in a serene fugue of ’70s rock with the guiding hand of my father, ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ became a sort of relationship weave between us, a cotton thread corseting us together despite the distance of over 150 miles. It was an experience I will find tricky to shake from my sleepy skull. There was a palpable cultural integrity that exuded from every pore, from every seat, a vintage bliss that is hard to come by even with the constant resurgance of new wave rock bands.
There was a lightness to their performance, the visual display more kaleidoscopic, hypnotic and ecstatic than I had ever imagined. It became a light bulb moment of ‘oh, this is why they’re called Electric LIGHT Orchestra’. Neon lines of green, blue and myriad colours performed a quick step across the open space, enhanced by stereotypical ’60s, psychedelic imagery. The mutation of sentimentality and optical otherworldliness combined in such an irrepressible way that you could truly believe that you’d stumbled upon a dimension where decades and ages no longer exist. An exceptional, individual – yet widely inclusive – phantasmagoria of memory and wonder.