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Electric Light Orchestra, 'Live at Winterland '76'

Live at Winterland '76  (1998,  60.34)  ***½/TTT½

Fire on High
Poker
Nightrider
Showdown
Eldorado Suite

Strange Magic
Medley:
  10538 Overture
  Do Ya
Evil Woman
Ma Ma Ma Belle
Roll Over Beethoven
Electric Light Orchestra, 'Live at Wembley '78'

Live at Wembley '78  (1998,  56.20)  ***/TT½

Intro - Tony Curtis
Standing in the Rain
Night in the City
Turn to Stone
Tightrope
Telephone Line
Rockaria!
Wild West Hero
Showdown
Sweet Talkin' Woman
Mr Blue Sky
Do Ya

Livin' Thing
Roll Over Beethoven
Electric Light Orchestra, 'Live at the BBC'

Live at the BBC  (1999, recorded 1973-76,  124.25)  ***½/TTT½

From the Sun to the World
Kuiama
In the Hall of the Mountain King
Roll Over Beethoven
King of the Universe
Bluebird is Dead
Oh No Not Susan
New World Rising
Violin Solo/Orange Blossom Special
In the Hall of the Mountain King
Great Balls of Fire
Fire on High
Poker
Nightrider
Medley - On the Third Day
Showdown
Eldorado Overture/Can't Get it Out of My Head
Poor Boy (the Greenwood)

Illusions in G Major
Strange Magic
Evil Woman
Ma-Ma-Ma Belle

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

After the let-down of what are generally considered to be ELO's two 'Mellotron albums', A New World Record and Out of the Blue (reviewed below), it's gratifying to find that a live recording from the time, Live at Winterland '76, features the thing prominently. Going by the equipment lists on the aforementioned albums, they appear to list what the band used live rather than in the studio, which is an odd thing to put on a studio album, but there you go. I actually find this album far more palatable than the band's ultra-commercial late-'70s material, with opener Fire On High being an excellent proggy instrumental, and most of the other tracks falling into the 'non-offensive' category, which is a turn up for the books.

Richard Tandy seems to have had a fairly small rig at this point; all I can hear is piano, Rhodes, Moog and loads of Mellotron, clearly deputising for the massed voices Jeff Lynne favoured in the studio. So, obvious choirs (8-voice, by the sound of it) on Fire On High, Poker and Nightrider, with what sounds like 'Tron strings on Showdown, although I was under the impression that the ELO machine wasn't loaded with strings, due to the presence of real ones, and had separate male and female choirs. A different tape frame? Anyway, more choirs on the lengthy Eldorado Suite (including Can't Get It Out Of My Head), although that appears to be it, with the latter half of their set unsurprisingly concentrating on their rockier efforts, including Do Ya, Ma Ma Ma Belle and their inimitable take on Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven, complete with 'Beethoven's Fifth' intro. It's possible there's a bit more 'Tron hidden away here and there - are those choirs buried in the mix on Ma Ma Ma Belle? - but it doesn't seem that likely.

Two years on, and ELO were a global phenomenon, as they say, after their two monstrous hit albums. Unsurprisingly, Live at Wembley '78 concentrates on material from A New World Record and Out of the Blue, making for a rather blander set than on Winterland. To my knowledge, this is no more than the soundtrack to the DVD (originally video) of the concert, and isn't exactly the highest of fi, with some odd, 'straight-from-desk' levels cropping up here and there. It appears to be from some sort of Royal Gala performance, with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in attendance (non-Brits, don't worry about this bit), with no less a personage than Tony Curtis introducing them as "The greatest rock band in the world", which seems to be stretching things a tad. This setlist reminds me why I never really liked ELO; this doesn't really cut it as intelligent pop, and it's rock that doesn't rock, neither of which float my boat. Particular non-faves: Telephone Line, Wild West Hero and Livin' Thing, although I just can't decide whether the ridiculous Mr Blue Sky is genius or idiocy. Probably both.

Tandy had expanded his rig by this time, the most notable addition being a polysynth (CS80?), used heavily on several tracks, not least Telephone Line, although his 'Tron choirs (sounds like the separate male and female voices by this time) get reasonable use on about half the album. However, I feel cheated: the one bit I was actually looking forward to hearing, the end section of Mr Blue Sky, is missing. What? You know, the male voice bit over the stomping piano, performed by some choir from Munich on the original. Nope, it gets to the end of the song's main section, then just grinds to a halt. What a swizz. Anyway, not exactly a major 'Tron album, despite fairly heavy use.

1999's Live at the BBC is actually a glorious document of several eras of the band, stopping just short of The Cheese Years. Disc one is pre- their Mellotron use, but versions of full-on prog efforts such as From The Sun To The World and Kuiama make it well worth hearing for those (like me) who'd pretty much dismissed the band. Disc two cuts it fine on the cheese front in places, but still features some fine material, plus gobs of Tandy's M400, with strings and choir on Fire On High and Poker, choirs on Nightrider, strings on the On The Third Day medley and Showdown, choirs on Eldorado Overture/Can't Get It Out Of My Head, Poor Boy (The Greenwood), phased strings on Evil Woman and a brief choir part on Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.

So; for ELO fans who want to hear what the band sounded like live, on the cusp of global success, Live at Winterland '76 and Live at the BBC are really quite essential. For the rest of us, there's loads of Mellotron choir to be heard, so this just might be worth picking up cheaply on that basis, along with some halfway decent material that knocks spots off their later pop stuff. Speaking of which, Live at Wembley '78 is vastly less essential, unless you're one of the multiple millions who actually like this stuff. Er...

Poor Boy (The Greenwood) live from '76.

What looks like a mimed rehearsal studio run-through of Can't Get It Out Of My Head. Weird.


mistaken identity
ELO, 'A New World Record'

A New World Record  (1976,  38.53)  ***

Tightrope
Telephone Line
Rockaria!
Mission (a World Record)
So Fine
Livin' Thing
Above the Clouds
Do Ya
Shangri-La
ELO, 'Out of the Blue'

Out of the Blue  (1977,  70.24)  ***

Turn to Stone
It's Over
Sweet Talkin' Woman
Across the Border
Night in the City
Starlight
Jungle
Believe Me Now
Steppin' Out
Concerto for a Rainy Day
  Standin' in the Rain
  Big Wheels
  Summer and Lightning
  Mr.Blue Sky

Sweet is the Night
The Whale
Birmingham Blues
Wild West Hero

Current availability:

ELO started as a Move side-project, until Roy Wood left after their first album, leaving creative control entirely in the hands of ex-Idle Race man Jeff Lynne, who had always wanted to take the style of the Beatles' I Am The Walrus to its logical conclusion. By their seventh LP, 1976's A New World Record, the band were huge, and their trademark orchestral pop/rock had become an institution, untouchable by either punk or disco. If you're over a certain age, you're likely to know the bulk of the material on these two albums. Whether you like it or not is another matter... Personally, I'd be perfectly happy if I never had to hear any of the singles ever again, but there you go.

Mellotron-spotting on ELO albums is a futile activity, to be honest. Despite Richard Tandy's instrumental credits on both these albums, I'm absolutely assured that there's none to be heard. A correspondent of mine (hi Colin) used to know Hugh McDowell, one of the band's two cellists, who confirmed that not only is all the choir/strings work on the albums real, but the band's three-piece string section rarely featured, either. In fact, the album credits look far more like the band's stage setup than studio (what, they used their stage PA for recording?), so those two mentions of a 'Mellotron 400' can effectively be discounted.

As far as said live setup's concerned, the violin/two cellos in their lineup meant that Tandy didn't even bother with strings on his machine, going for male voices, brass and a female voices/vibes split. On the 'fake 'Tron' front, all I can hear on A New World Record is choirs on three tracks, including the exceedingly irritating hit Livin' Thing. The following year's double Out of the Blue sold approximately 84 quadrillion copies (or thereabouts), and is still easy to find for 10p (or local equivalent) at any disreputable second-hand shop throughout the world. Even more immaculately produced than its predecessor, it also provided the charts with multiple weeks of sub-Beatles minstrelsy, with another four UK hits. The most obvious fake 'Tron is on major hit Mr Blue Sky (d'you think Jeff Lynne might've heard A Day In The Life at some point?), with the male voices coming in after the key change in the middle of the song, but be assured, no tapes here...

So; do you bother? Well, you'll either like their very ('70s) mainstream style or not; liking the Beatles doesn't mean you'll like ELO, and vice versa. Personally, I wish they'd carried on taking a few risks, but they'd have sold fewer records, so there you go. Buy only if you like what they do anyway. Oh, and for what it's worth, there are a couple of live recordings available from the period, at least one of which definitely contains Tandy's 'Tron.


bootlegs
Electric Light Orchestra, 'Boston 1976'

Orpheum, Boston, 19th March 1976  (91.09)  ***½/T½

Intro
Fire on High
Poker
Nightrider

King of the Universe
Instrumental
Bluebird is Dead

Cello solo
Showdown
Eldorado Overture
Can't Get it Out of My Head
Poor Boy (Greenwood)

Illusions in G Major
Eldorado
Violin solo
Strange Magic
10538 Overture
Do Ya
Evil Woman
Ma-Ma-Ma Belle

Roll Over Beethoven
Electric Light Orchestra, 'Osaka 1978'

Osaka, 23rd February 1978  (86.11)  ***½/T

Fire on High
Night in the City
Turn to Stone
Eldorado Overture
Can't Get it Out of My Head
Cello solo
Tightrope
Telephone Line
Rockaria!
Violin solo
Strange Magic
Showdown
Sweet Talkin' Woman
Evil Woman
Livin' Thing
Do Ya
Ma Ma Ma Belle
Roll Over Beethoven
Electric Light Orchestra, 'Las Vegas 1978'

Aladdin Theatre, Las Vegas, 22nd August 1978  (64.02)  ***½/T

Standin' in the Rain
Night in the City
Turn to Stone
Can't Get it Out of My Head
Tightrope
Telephone Line
Rockaria!
Strange Magic
Showdown
Mr. Blue Sky
Sweet Talkin' Woman
Evil Woman
Do Ya

Livin' Thing
Ma Ma Ma Belle
Roll Over Beethoven

Mellotrons used:

Given the relative dearth of official ELO Mellotron releases, at least the bootleg world throws us a few morsels over which to salivate. Their set at the Boston Orpheum in March '76 includes the various instrumental solo spots and several tracks missing from the official release from that tour, making it an essential listen for the fan, if less so for the rest of us. Plenty of Mellotron, albeit all choirs, heard on every highlighted track above to one degree or another. It occasionally rises to the top of the mix, but is mostly used for instrumental colouring.

Of course, '78 boots feature large chunks of the bland Out of the Blue, although many previous tour highlights were retained in the set. Both Osaka '78 and Las Vegas '78 feature what sounds like complete (albeit slightly different) sets, unlike Live at Wembley, making them fan essentials, again. Tandy's Mellotron use seems to have been reined in, with a mere handful of relevant tracks on each release. Osaka gives us what sounds more like male choirs than the mixed variety on Fire On High, major use on Can't Get It Out Of My Head and a few chords at the end of Do Ya, although Tightrope's are almost subliminal, while we get surprise bursts of strings at the end of Evil Woman and choirs on Do Ya from Las Vegas. All in all, these are rather less essential than the '76 boot if the Mellotron use is your chief criterion (what, me?).

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