It’s been years since Electric Light Orchestra toured the United States.
That’s because founder / principle songwriter Jeff Lynne effectively disbanded the group in the mid-1980s to devote more time to producing fellow Traveling Wilburys Tom Petty and George Harrison. Lynne recorded a new album—ZOOM—as Electric Light Orchestra in 2000, but a U.S. tour planned in support of the disc never happened.
Meanwhile, ex-ELO drummer Bev Bevans pressed on, booking shows with fellow alumni Mik Kaminski (violin) and Louis Clark (keyboards) as ELO Part II. When Bevans quit that ensemble, rights to the ELO name reverted back to Lynne—who prohibited its further use. Undaunted, the guys forged ahead as simply “The Orchestra.”
But naming rights are for lawyers and accountants; music is for concert stages. Kaminski and Clark appeared to have this in mind when they brought The Orchestra to Cleveland Performing Arts Center at on Saturday Night (August 23), and proceeded to thrill the whole of Masonic Auditorium with two hours of classic ELO hits.
In addition to Kaminski and Clark (who both joined the original ELO in the early ‘70s and stayed on into the ‘80s), The Orchestra now includes Gordon Townsend (drums), Eric Troyer (keys), Glen Burtnik (bass), and Parthenon Huxley (guitar).
We sorely underestimated how many folks would turn up for a Lynne-less ELO gig, but apparently a lot of Ohioans were just as hungry as we were to hear the hits played live: The historic theatre had a few empty seats, but not many.
The fans got what they came for, and then some. The six-piece group submitted near-perfect recreations of ELO gems that hailed mostly from early LPs like Eldorado (1974), Face the Music (1975), and A New World Record (1975). A majority of selections arrived courtesy 1977’s masterful Out of the Blue. The oldest song on the itinerary was 1971’s “10538 Overture,” while the most recent tracks (“Rock and Roll Is King,” “Hold On Tight”) came from 1981’s Time and 1983’s Secret Messages.
The Orchestra started strong with “Evil Woman” veered into the disco-pop of “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” and eased into ballad territory with “Can’t Get It Out of My Head.” Troyer and Huxley—both ace session men with impressive album credits—split lead vocal duties with Burtnik (ex-Styx), but on some tunes the guys divvied up the verses, passing the vocal baton so each could sing a little on the favorites. They also pulled off some of ELO’s signature three-part harmonies, as on the doo-wop chorus lead-in to “Telephone Line.”
Kaminski roamed stage right with his trademark blue fiddle. Clark sat manning a keyboard behind his old bandmate. Troyer busied himself with a pair of Korg Triton synths overlooking the ELO veterans. Sporting a blue shirt with white polka dots, Huxley exuded guitar hero charisma from his spot in front of Townsend’s drum rostrum. Burtnik occupied center-stage with a Day-Glo painted bass (perhaps a holdover from—or homage to—his Beatlemania days on Broadway).
“All Over the World” and “Strange Magic” were sprightly and loose. The cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” (itself a spin on the 1956 Chuck Berry song popularized by The Beatles) was appropriately energetic.
The band returned following a brief intermission, dazzling onlookers with a fairly accurate rendition of “Fire On High”—no small feat, given the dense layers of sound heard on the original record. Huxley wielded a 12-string acoustic guitar, nailing the tune’s distinctive rapid-fire strumming. “Living Thing” was sublime, and “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” smoked—but the nod to 1980 soundtrack hit “Xanadu” took us by surprise.
“How many had that one on videocassette at home?” joked Huxley.
“Shine a Little Love” (from 1979’s Discovery) bounced over a percolating dance beat. “Standin’ in The Rain” was refined and eloquent. “Mr. Blue Sky” triggered dancing in the box seats and aisles, and Burtnik (finally) sent an approving glance and thumbs-up to the ladies down front who’d been displaying a banner all night with the song title. Troyer deftly handled the song’s electro-talk chorus, mouthing along with his keyboard, and someone—we’re not sure who—delivered the tink-tink-tink punctuation at the ends of the verses.
Kudos to the sound engineers, who brewed what was—to our ears—a terrific mix that balanced the melodic instruments (fiddle, keys, guitar solos) with the rhythmic (bass, drums, guitar) just right. The light show was also spectacular, and featured a palette boasting more colors than a bag of Skittles.
By the time the group dusted off “Turn to Stone” the lip of the stage was jam-packed with ticketholders who could no longer resist dancing. “Do Ya” stretched all the way back to Lynne and Bevans’ time with pre-ELO band The Move—but it was fair game, since ELO redid the song for A New World Record. The Orchestra encored with ELO’s highest-charting hit, the zany guitar rocker “Don’t Bring Me Down.”
You might say—in contrast to that song’s title—The Orchestra effectively brought Cleveland up Saturday night.