Spoiler alert: they don’t play Battle Of Marston Moor, nor do they do Ocean Breakup/King Of The Universe or Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre). But there’s still plenty tonight to satisfy the hardest-core progger. ELO merge commercial instincts with structural complexity: their pop anthems are adorned with detailed intricacy.
Lynne’s back-to-back hits are rapturously received.
Arguably, ELO – billed as Jeff Lynne’s ELO, because he’s one of only two original members, the other being the somewhat less well-known keyboardist Richard Tandy, who is unwell and can’t be here tonight – are the biggest prog band in Britain. Hearing Lynne’s hits back-to-back, being rapturously received on this glorious summer evening, one is forced to conclude that his is the nation’s most widely adored (prog pop) songbook since The Beatles, with the possible exception of Queen.
Lynne’s arrival onstage prompts a standing ovation, but really he takes a back seat to the music. The crowd are just happy that, with his curly perm, shades and beard, dressed in jeans and jacket, he still looks reassuringly like Jeff Lynne. Apart from the odd between-song interjection, he’s strangely characterless, his voice functional, but it doesn’t matter because his tunes are Technicolor extravaganzas. And besides, his array of backing singers and musicians are more than up to the task of bringing those mini-symphonies to life.
They open with Standin’ In The Rain, followed by Evil Woman. A bumbling Lynne is overcome by the reaction. “What a fantastic sight this is,” he declares, pointing at the multitudes. “You should come onstage and see!”
All Over The World is an upbeat earth anthem quite at odds with the planet’s dire geopolitical state, but who cares with a chorus that severe? Showdown is stadium melancholia (‘Save me, oh save me/It’s unreal, the suffering’). Livin’ Thing encourages a mass singalong. Last Train To London – that irresistible Moog motif! – makes you reconsider prog’s funk quotient, the lyric (‘I really want tonight to last forever’) suddenly a meta-comment on the gig itself.
During Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, thousands of camera phones capture the vast mass of humanity, their lights twinkling magically as darkness falls. There’s a generous reception for 10538 Overture’s hard orchestral rock, appeasing the Quo demographic, and although this is a scaled-down version of ELO compared to their live heyday, there is a giant spaceship above the stage, and green lasers beam into the sky. The Move’s Do Ya is met with excitement not puzzlement, and fewer go to the bar during 2015’s When I Was A Boy than you’d imagine.
Mr Blue Sky is the climax, followed by an encore of Roll Over Beethoven. That Lynne, aged 69, can fill, let alone slay, a stadium in 2017 is testament to the power of prog.