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Music DVD Review: Electric Light Orchestra Live: The Early Years

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He said:

Jerry Lee Lewis and Edvard Hagerup Grieg have more in common than the piano. In several concerts, ELO (Electric LIght Orchestra) performed Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and segued into The Killer’s monster hit, “Great Balls of Fire” epitomizing their genre, classical/rock fusion, also known as “symphonic rock.” Procol Harum got the ball rolling for this fusion in the late ’60s with hits like “Whiter Shade of Pale” and ”Conquistador.” Jeff Lynne and Co. took the baton and went on to sell more than 50 million albums in the ’70s and ’80s. Lynne wrote “10528 Overture” and in June of 1970 it became ELO’s first single. It went on to become their first hit in the UK. Later, their first top ten hit in the States would be “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” from their fourth album, Eldorado, A Symphony.

Eagle Rock Entertainment has hit another home run with Electric Light Orchestra Live: The Early Years, a 91-minute DVD of excerpts from three performances in the ’70s. The August 24, 2010 release will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the formation of the band in 1970. The DVD opens with four tracks from a 1973 Brunel University concert and features the previously mentioned transition from Grieg to Lewis. We also see first hand how they became known as “the English guys with the big fiddles” — very few rock groups featured not one, but two cellos.

The second part consists of six tracks filmed for Rockpalast (a German TV program). Three of the four tracks from the first set are included here and feature a noticeable improvement in both video and audio technology — and surprisingly, no audience. This segment was obviously filmed in a studio but the boys in the band have a lot of fun and perform at the top of their game, especially the mostly solo cover of “Orange Blossom Special” by Mik Kaminski on violin.

The New Victoria Theatre in London is the venue for the Fusion concert, part of the “Face the Music” tour in 1976. Twelve songs are included here, among them: “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” “Eldorado Overture,” “10528 Overture,” ”Strange Magic,” “Evil Woman,” and “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.” It’s in this concluding section we get to see ELO at their best in front of enthusiastic fans, an exciting synergism. The DVD includes one extra feature, a brief intro and conversation by the band members.

In June of 2010, Robert Porter reported on his website that “ELO holds the record for having the most Billboard Top 40 hits of any band in US history, without ever hitting the #1 spot. Quite an accomplishment considering that all the songs, other than ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ were written by bandleader Jeff Lynne.”

“Evil Woman” peaked on the charts at number nine and includes a wink to the Beatles song, “Fixing a Hole” with its lyric, “There’s a hole in my head where the rain comes in.” Another — and perhaps more significant tribute — is paid to ELO themselves by none other than Academy Award-winning singer/songwriter Randy Newman with his song, “The Story of a Rock & Roll Band.”

She said:

“I love that ELO!” Hey, if they’re good enough for Randy Newman (my idol) they’re good enough for me. I don’t think I ever qualified as a huge ELO fan; I’ve always loved their hits, but I didn’t run out and buy every album they released.

The news of a new ELO DVD, Electric Light Orchestra Live – The Early Years, was welcome indeed. The disc features excerpts from three performances, Brunel University (1973), Rockpalast (1974), and Fusion (1976). These are low tech—no lasers, lighting effects, or showy theatricality.

Thirty-five-year-old concert footage can lose something to time, and this is demonstrated in the Brunel University set. While “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and “Great Balls of Fire” (which is great) rock, the rest of the set (“Ma-ma-ma Belle” and “King of the Universe”) seemed a little flat. I didn’t think it could happen, but I miss the polish of the studio recordings.

Rockpalast, a German television program, presented a more complex Electric Light Orchestra, with arrangements that are more sophisticated. It’s easy to assess their progress over the course of a year, since this set includes both “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Both songs benefited from the band’s maturation and increased complexity. The Grieg piece, in particular, is vastly refined, and they channel Jerry Lee Lewis in “Great Balls of Fire,” capturing its spirit. The inclusion of “Orange Blossom Special,” spotlighting violinist Mik Kaminski whose dissonant intro smoothly transitions to the melody, was a surprise and indulgence. There is an oddness to the Rockpalast six-song set, as it seems to have been recorded in an empty studio, but from the opening chords of “Daybreaker” on, it soars. Also performed on Rockpalast were “Ma-Ma-ma Belle” and “Showdown.”

The Fusion concert was a product of the “Face the Music” tour, and was filmed at the New Victoria Theatre in London. It features a dozen numbers, drawing even more heavily on classical influences. Here the band is energized, more experienced, and more confident. Their “Eldorado Overture” thrills, leading into “Can’t Get It Out of My Head.” The Fusion concert is certainly the most satisfying of the three. “Ma-ma-ma Belle” is the only song common to all three performances, and closes the set.

Also included on the disc is ELO’s 1974 Rockpalast interview; it is both short and unimpressive. The DVD will be released August 24.

Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent/stream Electric Light Orchestra Live – The Early Years? Definitely—I wouldn’t miss these early performance that chronicle the evolution of an iconic, groundbreaking group.

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