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Portland Mercury
On Saturday night, the hottest boomer-nostalgia ticket of the year filled Portland’s Moda Center to near capacity. Jeff Lynne’s ELO—the current-day incarnation of ’70s rock band Electric Light Orchestra—took the stage and ran through their impressively large back catalog of hits, with songs ranging from their 1971 debut album to 2015’s Alone in the Universe. Most of the setlist derived from their late ’70s chart apex and albums like 1976’s A New World Record and 1977’s double opus Out of the Blue, when Lynne's Beatlesque songwriting, ornamented with ELO's orchestral trappings, made for top 40 alchemy.

The 13-piece band was large enough to recreate every last note of those phantasmagoric hits. The group, directed by guitarist Mike Stevens, boasted three (sometimes four) guitarists, three keyboardists, and a three-piece string section to replicate Lynne’s intricate productions. The 71-year-old Lynne, meanwhile, stood center stage, his shaggy hair and beard looking entirely uncolored by time, his face concealed by his trademark dark glasses. Backing singer Iain Hornal occasionally took over on lead vocals, often recreating ELO bassist Kelly Groucutt’s distinct tenor. (Groucutt died in 2009; Lynne’s living ELO compadres, notably founding drummer Bev Bevan and keyboardist Richard Tandy, are not part of this outing.)

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The setlist was pure business. Opening, somewhat surprisingly, with “Standin’ in the Rain” from Out of the Blue’s “Concerto for a Rainy Day” suite, the band mostly stuck to their chart hits, blasting through 19 tunes in 90 minutes, followed by a one-song encore. ELO’s career trajectory—from fusty progressive-rock origins to glittery chart toppers—made for a somewhat jarring setlist, as the bubble-headed roller-rink anthem “Xanadu” sat next to the hoary, technical “10538 Overture.” And the presence of disco-friendly pap like “Last Train to London” and “All Over the World” at the expense of earlier, superior work from albums like Eldorado and Face the Music was frustrating.

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Portland Mercury
But there were more than enough highlights to make up for it. The concert's decided peak was a ravishing version of “Telephone Line,” the gorgeous ballad from A New World Record that Lynne sang as though it were 1976 all over again. His voice hasn’t aged a day—best evinced by his ability to hit the high notes in 1973 single “Showdown”—and although Lynne was content to let the band do most of the heavy lifting, he seemed a proud ringmaster at full ease with his legacy.

Further reading: We Can't Get ELO Out of Our Heads, and We Don't Ever Want To (June 20, 2019)
Opener Dhani Harrison joined the group for a run-through of “Handle with Care,” the 1988 hit by the Traveling Wilburys, whose ranks featured Lynne and Harrison’s father, George. The younger Harrison—who had delivered a somewhat schizophrenic set of hard rock, new-age dharma, and purest Beatlesque pop earlier in the evening—sounded uncannily like his father in the lead mic spot.

It was Lynne's first live appearance in the Rose City since 1976, when the original ELO played the Paramount Theatre (now the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall). After a set-closing and triumphant “Mr. Blue Sky,” Saturday night's show drew to a close with a succinct encore of “Roll Over Beethoven.” ELO’s cover of the Chuck Berry chestnut has always been an acute demonstration of the overblown tendencies of ’70s FM arena rock. But ELO was one of the bands to define arena rock in the first place, and their songs, which are now firmly ensconced in middle age, sounded perfectly at home inside Portland’s largest indoor venue.

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Portland Mercury