Jeff Lynne’s ELO At Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, August 21st, 2018, Reviewed
rock nyc writer Robert Nevin dubbed Jeff Lynne “Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame Honorable Mention and runner-up emeritus”. Musician Kevin Perri was even more succinct: “Sounds great, super boring”. Power pop god Herb Eimerman claimed “maybe the best show i’ve ever seen….killer close seats and the sound was great….mind blown…!!!….”.
Last night at Madison Square Garden, with a full on dyed brown beard and the remnants of Lynne’s afro making it seem like any The Move and post Move time rather than the most recent incarnation of the 70 year old pop legends career, he less dropped the years and more facsimiled them, and I don’t mind at all. . Looking at pictures circa “Flowers In The Rain,” and a little later, say 1972, when they all followed Roy Wood’s lead and became hairy, psychedelic, glam boys ala Marc Bolan, Jeff looks the same, and sounds the same, and if you listen to The Moves Shazam, before Jeff was even in the band, draws from a similar well. For all the symphonic Gregg Lake tude, Jeff is a power pop guy. He is like an early incarnation of Nick Lowe without the country affectation or Kanye West without the funk, a magpie drawing effortlessly on everything, sucking it all up. “When You Walk In The Room,” “Ready Teddy,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and a slew of Chuck Berry, and a vast array of the Beatles and especially Paul McCartney, all filtered and rewritten and segueing into something else entirely. Who came first? ELO or Steely Dan? You know the answer.
The audience? The audience were as old as I am, older, they were constantly a cheeseburger away from a massive coronary, I had a nosebleed seat but I am somewhat fit, I swear I thought half the men were gonna collapse on the way . It wore me out watching them and when opening act, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, called them beautiful it felt like an inside joke. Oh, yes, Dawes. They performed for fifty minutes and were terrible, Taylor. a face pulling parody of a guitarist, the songs, astoundingly tuneless, and in the entire set they performed one song so great, the last one, it seemed like the luckiest masterpiece anyone has ever heard.
Jeff went on at 918pm (why so late -none of us are getting any younger, mate?) and the set was just superb. While Kevin is right, and it was a bore, and the performance were mostly very precise incarnations of ELO’s recorded version, the sound was enrichening and the arrangements gorgeous, in “Rockaria” the aria was well sung, in the Travelling Wilbury’s song, the Roy Orbison vocal perfect, and in the more raucous moments, the Marvin Gaye inspired in the verses “Showdown,” they broke a sweat without breaking a sweat.
I mentioned Kanye West earlier and really rap is very similar to Jeff Lynne’s method of operation. Similar to the way Kanye West on, say, “Bound 2” where Kanye samples “Bound” by Ponderosa Twins Plus One and the “Uh-huh, honey” from Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s,” Lynne’s “Rockaria!” echoes Wagner and Little Richard. Odder, and sweeter, is that when you hear Brian Wilson on “All Around The World” you hear Jeff hearing Brian and later producing Brian Wilson, the masterpiece debut .
Jeff is one of those guys, like Denny Laine though a little later on, who took off from the Beatles and the British explosion and because he was a student of Britpop was also a producer of Britpop and because he was a producer who was also a student, could get the best out of people like Paul McCartney (Flaming Pie) and take them where they are going. On stage, it is not that Jeff is lazy, or even distracted, it is that he is so into the sound he is oblivious to his surroundings, and a wry mention that it was almost 40 years to the day since ELO first performed at MSG, didn’t change that.
So no revelations… well, maybe one, “Do Ya” was better than I remembered (also where Joe and Mick got their lick for “Clash City Rockers”). And sure it was pure pop for then people, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was being phoned it. During the first third, Jeff went from “Livin’ Thing” to “Rockaria!” to “Handle With Care,” power pop to prog rock to folk, and all of it sounded like Jeff. Though for me the highlight was a song worth worshipping “Telephone Line” -one of the great heartbreakers. It all made sense of the opening “Standin’ In The Rain,” and of how “Eleanor Rigby'”s sweeping sorrow became the backbone of Lynne’s vision.