When a band hasn’t been to your city in 38 years, it’s safe to say assume anticipation will be high when they finally crash land back into town.
The energy for Jeff Lynne’s ELO at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh last night was palpable from the start, save for the fact that Lynne is the only original member. The debate over band members might have had more sense for the arena’s previous night performance of Queen + Adam Lambert, but it had no affect on Lynne putting on a dazzling performance.
The extended band began with deep cut “Standin’ in the Rain,” cracking claps of thunder and bursts of efficient stage lighting offering the perfect storm simulation. The opening words to “Evil Woman” stopped the audience in their tracks before leading into the one-two punch of “All Over the World” and the slinky “Shakedown.”
In-between songs, Lynne was mum with the exception of a sincere and very British “thank you.” But Lynne, who hides behind a bushy beard and sunglasses, doesn’t need to say a word; the songs speak for themselves.
And the light show certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Each song basked in it’s own unique color complete with mounting screen projections. Prog lasers were thrown into songs like “Telephone Line” for good stoner measure.
Lynne brought out opener Dhani Harrison to fill in his dad’s shoes on “Handle With Care” from The Travelling Wilburys. The backing video of the Wilburys complete with images of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison, made for a sunny, sentimental moment.
The amazing thing about last night’s show though, was that even if you weren’t overly familiar with a song, it still felt like a worn in hit. There was no “bathroom break moment.” Even when Lynne played “When I Was a Boy” from ELO’s 2015 album, people listened transfixed.
With Pittsburgh being the last stop on ELO’s 2019 run, Lynne’s vocals seemed a little worn down, but his backing band was there to carry him through. Two back-up vocalists, two guitar players, three string players, keyboards, drums and an eccentric bass player, made for a dynamic group of players.
The tail end of the setlist cranked the dial up to eleven just when you thought we couldn’t possibly get any higher.
“Sweet Talkin’ Woman” generated plenty of hand-claps despite the absent “run, run” line. “Don’t Bring Me Down” grounded us back down to earth with it’s heavy groove before sending us up to the clouds on “Mr. Blue Sky.” Just when you think you’re sick of hearing that song, you happily oblige as if it’s your first listen all over again.
They returned for an encore of “Roll Over Beethoven,” which makes sense considering Lynne wears his Chuck Berry influences on his sleeve. The band and the audience had fun until the very last second, proving this to be a quintessential show for summertime and all-time.
For Harrison’s part, he performed a 45-minute set on defying all exceptions surrounding his name.
Soft Indian influences mixed with heavy bass and percussion made for an interesting and confusing blend of modern rock. Harrison certainly has the guitar chops and voice from his pop, but his sound is all his own. And it just so happened to be a night of celebration: Harrison spent his birthday with us.