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Saturday, December 11, 2010

E.L.O. Live - The Early Years DVD review

Electric Light Orchestra Live - The Early Years DVD review
Released through: Eagle Vision (Eagle Rock). Release date: Available now.

I personally think that the release of this DVD set, ‘Electric Light Orchestra – Live – The Early Years’ is great when I think of how much crap mates of mine back home used to give me for liking ‘that pop band ELO,' during the 70’s and 80’s.

This really shows anyone that only ever thought of the Electric Light Orchestra for their pop hit singles such as 'Mr. Blue Sky,' 'The Diary of Horace Wimp' and even sad stuff like ‘Shine a Little Love’ as being it.

Without doubt this shows where ELO originated as a contemporary progressive rock band without a shadow of a doubt and those poppy years were a million miles away.
It can’t be forgotten though that although Roy Wood did not remain with ELO for long, it was his and Jeff Lynne’s joint dream to create the Electric Light Orchestra, along with drummer Bev Bevan, merging rock with classical sounds, in a new way, when the three of them called time on their previous band The Move.
Roy Wood then left to form his own somewhat whacky Wizzard band.

Starting with a performance at Brunel University in 1973, of just four tracks, the band opens with 'King of the Universe' from their at the time new album, ‘On the Third Day.’
The thing about live performances back in the early seventies was that there was none of the gadgetry that bands or artists have available today to make live shows so much more than they really are.

This was seriously a rough and ready performance, yet there’s no question that even back in those days, Jeff Lynne was totally the perfectionist and the band seriously must have rehearsed this stuff to death before these performances. Let’s face it, the Electric Light Orchestra was seriously a new concept of rock merging with orchestral abilities.
'Ma-Ma-Ma Belle' is next up and was the hit single at the time and as basic as this was back in the day, simply the addition of a violin and cellists to a rock band, was something else it really was.

The band then provides their interpretation of Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ which OK, starts to get a little repetitive but it was certainly a well recognized tune to take and transform into the bands own piece of music.
It also includes violinist Mik Kaminski giving us an excellent solo performance midway through. Great stuff!

You know with as much initiative put forward by Jeff Lynne to come up with the idea of rock meets orchestra to be taken seriously, with next and final track from this performance, a song that Jerry Lee Lewis probably made the most famous, ‘Great Balls of Fire’ shows a light hearted yet, genuine love of true rock and roll music from the man.

The line up on from the 1973 Brunel show, is the same as for the next installment from 1974, Live at Rockpalast, consisting of: Jeff Lynne – Guitar / Vocals, Bev Bevan – Drums, Richard Tandy – Keyboards, Mike De Albuquerque – Bass / Vocals, Mik Kaminski – Violin, Hugh McDowell – Cello and the late Mike Edwards also on Cello.

1974’s performance from Rockpalast, opens with the excellent contemporary rock instrumental ‘Daybreaker’ from the ‘On the Third Day’ release and starts the set well, but the audience seem totally subdued?
It’s almost as if they recorded say their sound-check as the song is greeted with nothing but silence!

The hit single ‘Showdown’ is next and sounds good although I see and hear now why bassist Mike De Albuquerque didn’t last too much longer with the band. I must say his backing vocals come across a little rough for what Jeff Lynne was trying to present with ELO. Again, the audience response here is next to non-existent.

Mik Kaminski gets to showcase his piece, ‘Orange Blossom Special’ which although starting sounding a little rough perhaps, soon warms up with the band backing him in a hoedown type performance, great fun!
A stronger version – than the Brunel one – of 'Ma-Ma-Ma Belle' is next and you can sense the band is moving forward.

What’s particularly great to see, is the way that the classically trained Hugh McDowell, Mik Kaminski and Mike Edwards get into rocking around the stage with their cellos and violin and don’t just sit there. I love it!
Shame that Jeff Lynne chose to drop that during the 80’s, as I always thought that surely that was what ELO was all about.

As on the Brunel live material, ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ follows 'Ma-Ma-Ma Belle' next in the set, with it’s eerie intro from Richard Tandy on keys, before the whole band dives in.
‘Great Balls of Fire’ again closes the set and there is slight applause evident …, but you almost wonder if it was simply down to the way the whole band was miked up with their performance that maybe didn’t catch the crowd?

For me, the real treat of this set was the truly excellent set the band plays on the third installment on this set, ‘Fusion – 1976,’ in support of the then current album ‘Face the Music.’ This line up also including a couple of changes in the more upfront performance and clearly a stronger vocal, by late bassist / vocalist with the band, Kelly Groucutt which allowed Jeff Lynne to let Groucutt take the lead vocals on a number of songs and also new cellist Melvyn Gale who was a much better shall we say ‘foil’ for Hugh McDowell as they both seemed to get more into the stage movement.
This performance was recorded in London’s New Victoria Theatre with a very welcoming crowd indeed.

This was a much more cohesive and strong band line up that went on the record the now classic ELO albums, after ‘Face the Music’ in ‘A New World Record’ and the huge seller ‘Out of the Blue,’ which although it contained the perhaps somewhat cheesy ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ also contained some killer songs and musical masterpieces.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here, the live performance here starts with the band kicking in with the excellent ‘Poker’ with lead vocals shared jointed with both Lynne and Groucutt and the band in top form!

‘Nightrider’ another excellent track is next and boy! What I’d give to see these songs performed by Jeff Lynne and as many of his old ELO band mates together again today! The song has such a strong vocal presentation and backed by a band that is completely in sync is just great.
Time to go back to a previous hit next in ‘Showdown’ which put simply sounds as good as it gets here!

Then ‘Eldorado Overture’ / ‘Can’t Get it Out of My Head,’ initially next shows the pure blend of classical and rock at it’s peak and then a sure sign of how Jeff Lynne was to start writing big hit singles in ‘Can’t Get it Out of My Head.’

It’s still a sound though that doesn’t say ‘sellout’ as perhaps his later material tended to say, not to say that it was ever really bad, which perhaps a few tracks off ‘Discovery,’ but again, that was all to come later. I’m enjoying this performance of the Electric Light Orchestra in their prime.

‘Poor Boy (The Greenwood)’ Jeff Lynne’s nod towards Robin Hood perhaps, a great song from the ‘Eldorado’ album, closely followed by my favorite track on that release, ‘Illusions in ‘G’ Major’ which rocks like a good ‘un!
To perhaps their best known pop ballad, introduced here by Bev Bevan, from that period next in ‘Strange Magic’ which was a classic in it’s own right, again showing the mans ability to write great songs in so many different styles, which of course started to draw comparisons and even claims of plagiarism of the way John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote in as the Beatles. I say if the guy had the talent to write in such a successful and well written way, good luck to him! How many of ELO’s songs really sounded like the Beatles? It really wasn’t that many.

Another song that did well in being brought up to date, even just from 1972 - where the whole orchestral sound then, was perhaps not so finely tuned / tweaked was given a new lease of life, when performed later live, here in 1976, was ‘10538 Overture’ even benefiting from the pace being picked up a little. No bad thing at all!

Next up is the excellent ‘Do Ya,’ a song Jeff Lynne first played in The Move and then it appeared on the album that followed this performance, ‘A New World Record.’ Great stuff!

Then it’s ‘Evil Woman,’ which is as classic an ELO song as you can get, before the band close the performance with ‘Ma-Ma-Ma Belle’ with the complete audience clapping as they kick it in.

A great set closer to be sure and as mentioned before Hugh McDowell on the cello, really starts getting the band into partying on stage on this extended version of the song and all of them appear to be loving it!
There’s also the bonus interview feature from the 1974 Rockpalast show.
It’s actually quite amusing in places, although very short.

Overall, this DVD is a mix in terms of quality, when you think of how slick Jeff Lynne got ELO to be, through albums that followed such as ‘Out of the Blue,’ ‘Time,’ ‘Secret Messages,’ ‘Balance of Power’ and the underrated ‘Zoom.’

I think ‘Discovery’ has some merits of it's own and I recognize that Jeff Lynne, the power behind and all that is ELO has wanted to experiment along the way and was trying to keep the band current. Sadly in the eyes of many people, most of the ELO audience, not to mention the media in general and any rock fans that might’ve previously given ELO a chance, took it as an opportunity to knock the band more. Shame …

This DVD shows where ELO got past their beginnings and were really starting to make things happen, even if not too slick with the Brunel performance here, the Fusion show certainly shows a great deal of the magic that put simply, WAS the Electric Light Orchestra.
Rating: 4 out of 5
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