Jeff Lynne’s ELO and Dawes
August 10, 2018
Not to blaspheme, but there was something positively messianic about last night’s Toyota Center show starring Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Something about long awaited returns and zealous disciples congregating to be uplifted, we suppose. It’s probably just a coincidence that Lynne was backed by 12 band members while delivering some rock ‘n’ roll salvation. And, if you skew toward Scientology, there was plenty of spaceship imagery on hand to salve your soul.
No matter those affiliations, a full house gathered to hear Lynne and company deliver classic rock standards that have gone unheard live in these parts for literal decades. If you grew up listening to Electric Light Orchestra dominating Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 week after week during the band’s heyday, it might have felt like a privilege to witness these songs performed live. Houston is one of just ten North American cities hosting dates on this 2018 tour.
The anticipation came to a crashing head at 9:13 p.m. with Lynne’s appearance onstage. The opening song was “Standing in the Rain.” Storm clouds and lightning visuals filled five skyscraper-tall screens behind the band and the audience’s thunderous applause provided a fitting sound effect to the moment. The second song of the set was “Evil Woman,” one of the band’s biggest hits. Folks couldn’t clap as enthusiastically for that one as they’d already filled their hands with their smartphones, steadied and aimed at the band to capture the moment for posterity.
By the third song, the phones were tucked away to allow for dancing. “All Over the World” was the first to get people out of their seats and shimmying. The only song from the Xanadu soundtrack to appear in the set, it was a favorite for fans of the cult classic and gave the night a little disco pop. From there, Lynne moved down the line to “Showdown,” which allowed him to boast some blues guitar acumen.
About this time, Lynne addressed the audience for the first – and really the only – time of the night.
“It’s good to be back here after all these years. I can’t believe it,” he said, pausing briefly to politely accept the audience applause or maybe to consider what to say next. He settled on, “Oh well, let’s have a whole lot of fun.”
By this time, Lynne had been onscreen long enough for people in the crowd to get a good look and utter how great he looks at 70. Yeah, but what about how great he sounds? It’s as if not touring ad nauseam has actually helped preserve his voice to the same purity it had on alums like 1977’s Out of the Blue or Discovery from 1979. About half the set’s 19 songs were from those two albums.
Watching Lynne do his thing, one is reminded that it’s not just about ELO music. His career in the industry is storied beyond his work as vocalist and guitarist for the beloved British rock band. He’s a member of The Traveling Wilburys, so we got “Handle With Care,” to recall that period. He’s worked with every member of The Beatles and their influence is all over ELO tracks like “Can’t Get it Out of My Head,” which was a neat sing along for last night’s audience. Y’all actually sounded pretty good.
Lynne closed the night with a single encore song, Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” which got an appropriate string-y intro courtesy of the namesake’s famous Fifth and a trio of players on cello and violin. By then, fans were doing the Twist like they did last summer (and, the many summers before that). Some even emulated Berry’s famous duck walk during the shut-it-down closer. But, the song that captured the essence of the evening had been played about an hour earlier.
“When I Was a Boy” must be one of the greatest songs written about how it feels to love music. It’s a sweet throwback tune that allows Lynne, a music legend, to recall how it all started. In the day and age of D.I.Y. music, where independent artists lean on Bandcamp and everyone with a video recording device can upload their performances to YouTube, one might consider the quaintness of the song passé. It isn't. No matter how a musician finds an audience, the trek begins with the dream Lynne sings about in the poignant song, the dream that steers one away from chores or workaday business to seek musical greatness. It nearly brought a tear to these eyes hearing it live and personally knowing so many musicians who are pursuing the dream. It was as close to gospel as one can get at a good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza.
Dawes really needs no introduction here, they’ve sort of become darlings of the Houston music scene, though they hail not from here but Los Angeles. The folk rock troupe has endeared itself to H-town with shows far more intimate than we should expect from a band with so much upside. They played a free Continental Club show earlier this year and just yesterday, mere hours ahead of their opening set with Jeff Lynne’s ELO, performed at Cactus Records.
Judging by how much of the audience was seated when they kicked things off promptly at 8 p.m., that elbow-rubbing has garnered Dawes many Houston faithful. And what’s not to like? The songs are solid, with wonderful harmonizing between front man Taylor Goldsmith and Lee Pardini on keys. The crowd responded enthusiastically to tracks from Dawes’ latest album, Passwords. Tracks like “Feed the Fire” – which brought Level 42 to mind – “Roll With the Punches” and “Living in the Future” were highlights. Goldsmith reminded Houston’s Dawes devotees they’d be back in November as headliners and folks were practically looking up ticket info from their seats. They closed their set with “All Your Favorite Bands,” which they dedicated to everyone in attendance, but especially the headliner. It’s got brilliant, hopeful lyrics about wishing “all your favorite bands stay together.” The perfect set closer, it earned the band a deserved standing ovation.
“Mr. Blue Sky,” which is one both my kids love (and loved long before it got the Marvel treatment in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Hearing it live from Jeff Lynne was exceptional and I hope I hear it live again later this year when Lily Allen (who does a wonderful rendition) makes her own long-awaited return to Houston.
Rock ‘n’ roll disciples in Frampton, Styx and Floyd tees. The way some of them were dancing and cutting up, maybe the ELO spaceship is really an H.G. Wells-approved time machine.
OVERHEARD IN THE CROWD
“Unbelievable! Kids don’t even know what that is!”
“Don’t bring me down,,…Bruce!”
Someone whistling the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the men’s room after the set. We’ve made it after all, friends.
RANDOM NOTEBOOK DUMP
Can we dish The Dirt for just a second? Down the street but nestled between Toyota Center and House of Blues, Dirt Bar is a pre-show barometer of sorts for big nights like last night. A person randomly walking into the dimly-lit establishment might need a flashlight to see its beverage selection (no worries, a bevy of kind, tattooed bartenders will help), but what will clearly be seen is enthusiasm for whichever music is soon to fill the air at Toyota or HOB. Last night, middle-aged crazies were in force, tossing back $2 Lone Stars while Journey, Queen and ABBA played over the sound system. You didn’t need Hercule Poirot around to spot every clue that it was classic rock night in Houston.
JEFF LYNNE’S ELO SET LIST
Standing in the Rain
All Over the World
When I Was a Boy
Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys)
Can’t Get It Out of My Head
Shine a Little Love
Wild West Hero
Sweet Talkin’ Woman
Don’t Bring Me Down
Turn to Stone
Mr. Blue Sky
Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry cover)