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

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It’s hard to imagine ELO as ever being just a plain ol’ rock & roll band, playing their hearts out to a small crowd from a stripped down stage. I had naturally assumed that the Electric Light Orchestra had simply arrived on earth, circa 1978, via their giant flying saucer stage, with an arsenal of hit songs, and an already established interstellar fan base. Little did we know that ELO was actually formed in 1970 by Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood from the ashes of their band, The Move, and slowly climbed their way to international stardom, as this new DVD so brilliantly attests.

Electric Live Orchestra – Live, The Early Years contains excerpts from three vintage 1970′s performances, beginning with a short set from England’s Brunel University, in 1973, followed by a 1976 performance on the German TV show Rockpalast, and finally culminating with their incredible 12-song Fusion concert performance at the New Victoria Theatre, in London, while they were in the midst of their 1976 Face The Music tour. The DVD also includes a band interview from the Rockpalast show.

Throughout my elementary and high school years of the ’70s and early ’80s, ELO dominated the airwaves and singles charts. During their 1971-1986 run, they accumulated 27 Top 40 singles in both the US and the UK, and have gone on to sell well over 50 million albums worldwide. When you buy a greatest hits CD from ELO, it will most definitely be spilling over with more hit songs than you know what to do with. Lord knows they must have about a thousand different compilation CDs floating around though.

The Brunel University footage is almost shocking when you first see it. A young, and pre-perpetually-sunglassed, Jeff Lynne looked more like a young wolfman than the famous Traveling Wilbury brother we all know and love. He was nearly unrecognizable until opening his scraggly beard-covered mouth to dive into the opening track, “King of the Universe,” but then his signature golden pipes make him instantly recognizable. In 1973 ELO released their third album, On The Third Day, and this set would feature three songs from it, as well as a blistering cover of the Jerry Lee Lewis classic, “Great Balls of Fire.” Although Lynne was primarily influenced by the Beatles, he was also obviously very influenced by 1950′s American rock & roll, as this cover of “Great Balls,” and his famous take on Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” will attest.

Although the very raw Brunel and Rockpalast footage are quite fascinating, the highlight of this DVD is the band’s 12-song Fusion concert set. By the release of their Face The Music album in 1975, ELO had really settled into their signature sound and were already an incredible force to witness live. Kelly Groucutt had recently replaced Mike De Albuquerque on bass, and his clearly superior vocals were instrumental to reproducing the band’s signature harmony vocals so well live.

They kick off the set with a couple of lesser known tracks from Face The Music, the guitar-heavy rocker, “Poker”, and the more orchestrated, “Nightrider.” They would also play the two hit singles from that album, “Strange Magic,” and “Evil Woman.” They round out the set with some classics from their previous two albums, as well as a couple of deep cuts from Eldorado, “Poor Boy (The Greenwood),” and “Illusions in G Major,” which I doubt were ever performed live again after this tour. They go all the way back to their 1971 debut album to provide the highlight of the concert, an incredible performance of “10538 Overture,” which bleeds right into a smoking version of “Do Ya,” which would not be released until their next album, 1976′s A New World Record.

“Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” is always the anthem that brings the house down and it certainly did not dissapoint this night. By now, the two cellists were strutting around the stage and flinging their giant cellos around as if they were Jimmy Page manhandling his Les Paul at the Garden. It was quite the site to see these two long-haired rockers at the front of the stage bowing up a storm on those ridiculously out of place instruments, but it perfectly personified the appeal of ELO and this amazing DVD.

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