Jeff Lynne’s ELO ends tour on a high note in Pittsburgh

Review by Scott Tady posted in Beaver County Times, photos by AWelding photo here and Beaver County Times

You easily could have forgotten how many hit songs Jeff Lynne’s ELO achieved, until the band starts reeling them off one after the other after the other.

A nearly sold-out PPG Paints Arena crowd Thursday enjoyed that reminder during the band’s triumphant final date of a U.S. tour.

The 12-member ensemble, including two support vocalists, two cellists and a violin player, didn’t show any signs of tour fatigue, delivering a musically accomplished, crowd-pleasing show.

They played no fewer than 11 songs that you straight-up could classify as classic-rock staples, getting the hit parade going just two songs in with “Evil Woman.”

The bearded, sunglasses-sporting Lynne stood center stage, strumming guitars and singing in a range that wasn’t vast but nevertheless effective and true to radio form. He especially caught the right emotional tenor befitting the loneliness in “Telephone Line,” as green lasers shot up toward the rafters (good to see those making a comeback this summer).

Iain Hornal shared the lead singing on a number of songs, though the grandest moments came in selections such as “All Over The World” that found Lynne backed by five-piece harmony from his seasoned band.

“Showdown” offered clean, expressive guitar, moody synth and strings, and a slinky bass line.

“Do Ya” raised the excitement level with one of ’70s rock’s greatest opening guitar riffs and a composition showcasing the band’s full, orchestral sound intermittently sliced through by more pure blasts of guitar, led by the in-demand six-stringer Milton McDonald.

If you ever wondered where Trans-Siberian Orchestra or spinoffs like Rocktopia sprang from, look no further than ELO.

That three-woman string section added a lot. Jessie Martin supplied one of the night’s standout moments, sawing away on those lovely, and dare we say a bit creepy, violin notes that launch and later infuse the power-pop hit “Livin’ Thing.” She used short repeated strokes, and long graceful ones, as needed. Like most ELO songs, “Livin’ Thing” also was awash in synth, dual guitars (acoustic led in this case) and soaring multivocals.

Though another of the night’s fondest takeaways was a more simply structured, rootsy rock song, as Lynne busted out “Handle With Care” from his days with super group the Traveling Wilburys. To handle the George Harrison vocal verses, Lynne brought back out on stage the night’s well-received opening act, Dhani Harrison. Here comes the son, all right, as Dhani looked and sounded a lot like his Fab Four father.

Lynne also dug into some enjoyable deeper cuts, including the opera-starting, old-school rocking “Rockaria!” and “Shine a Little Love” with its bit of a disco beat.

Music director Mike Stevens introduced the band, saving for last Lynne, who looked genuinely touched by the standing ovation he received.

They hit quite a homestretch, starting with “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” “Telephone Line” (with fans lighting up the arena with smartphones), and a delightfully brash and bouncy “Don’t Bring Me Down” as band members pointed in different directions during the over-the-top “Groos” part (or “Bruce” depending on which lyrical lore you believe). Maybe the band was getting a little slap happy at that point with the finish line of their tour in sight. Bassist Lee Pomeroy did a little duck walking, which foreshadowed the lively show-closing cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.”

But first came “Turn to Stone,” earning a mid-song audience cheer when the band nailed the one rapidly sung verse, then the Beatlesque “Mr. Blue Sky.”

Lynne was largely influenced by the Beatles, so it was a nice touch he tapped Harrison, a lifetime friend, as his tour’s support act.

Harrison won over the crowd, playing guitar, organ and singing with his alternative-rock band. Their songs had a depth and a serious, moody tone, even the one where Harrison strummed a ukulele and sang, “It’s only me trying not to be myself.”

He had a polite, upbeat rapport with the crowd, thanking the fan who shouted, “Happy birthday!” (Harrison turned 41 that day), and ending his set with an encouraging plea: “Be good to each other, yeah?”