Caught Live: Iron Maiden (with Shinedown) Echo Arena Liverpool, 20th May 2017

‘Scream for me, Liverpool – SCREAM FOR MEEE!’

A lot’s happened since the last time we heard vocalist Bruce Dickinson utter that at an Iron Maiden gig in this city: your humble correspondent was still a young man in his twenties at the time for one thing, Liverpool FC were league champions, few had heard of Nirvana and the site where the Echo Arena now sits was a large overspill car park for the Albert Dock. That gig, a staggering 27 years ago this year, also came before Dickinson exited the band to be replaced by Blaze Bayley (guitarist Adrian Smith had already packed his bags, being replaced by one-time Gillan guitarist Janick Gers), before he and Smith returned to the fold in 2000. So the anticipation of this gig was palpable, even though when the tour dates were announced last autumn, I for one didn’t want to believe it until I saw Bruce, Steve, Nicko, Dave, Adrian and Janick on that Echo Arena stage!

The band members are now either approaching 60 or have already passed it; consequently in recent years they’ve eased back on the relentless, extensive tour schedules they are known for in favour of large outdoor festival dates. Their last arena tour was in 2011 and for this run, they made a point of including cities they had either not been to before or hadn’t played in a long time. The fact that many more cities have a large-scale venue suitable for their stage show now made that possible, and the fact that this date fell on a Saturday made this show attractive to travelling fans. On the day of the show, you could not move for Iron Maiden T-shirt clad people, with the focal point being the Baltic Fleet pub, normally a quiet dock road pub which brews its own beer on the premises but on this occasion, the setting for the ‘Trooper’ gathering. The band had chosen the pub as host for its pre (and post show) gathering, with ‘Trooper’ beer on sale and band mascot Eddie stationed outside to greet fans.

When the dates went on sale much was made of the band’s efforts to thwart what is euphemistically described as ‘secondary ticketing’. The system put in place was not to print out tickets, rather you needed to produce photo identification plus the card used to purchase the tickets with. That meant if there was a group of say, four going, all had to be together at the venue entrance. The band and manager Rod Smallwood also put in place a system for fans who genuinely could not make the date that they’d booked and who wanted to pass on their ticket, although as the date drew closer, actual tickets were issued to fans who had booked for the seated areas. For those who had plumped for the standing floor, the original arrangement of turning up at the venue with ID and payment card stood. On the night, there were massive queues at the Cityside and Riverside entrances, while those of us booked for standing were directed to a low-level entrance away from the main doors. Expecting a massive queue, I arrived shortly before doors to find only a small line in place. At this point, venue staff asked us to have our cards ready with ID, as a team of staff worked their way down the line. They were armed with what looked like bus ticket machines (!) and upon verifying the card and ID, their machines printed a small ticket out there and then for entrance. The doors soon opened and I’d noticed the queue I joined ten minutes earlier had quadrupled in size, so my timing for once was excellent! The system worked better than I’d anticipated and I soon found myself in the empty arena, where a crowd was already gathering at the barrier. I’d expected to be at least halfway back, as it turned out I was about five off the front, right of centre.

As the crowd began to filter in, I noticed several different languages being spoken in the crowd around me. It turned out there were fans over from Italy, Poland, Argentina, Brazil and several other countries. As someone who has had to do a fair amount of travelling myself to see bands, this was a big deal that this show had brought so many foreign visitors to Liverpool. It also brought it home to me how important it is to have such a venue in your city, from a tourist standpoint – these people could have gone to say, Manchester instead (and probably did fly into the country via Manchester Airport before heading to Liverpool).

With the doors opening just after 6pm, it was quite a wait before openers Shinedown arrived on the stage, the place had filled up a lot by then. Having seen these guys twice before in similar settings (last year in this same hall) I had few expectations. I like their music – at least, the material they focus on (they generally overlook their first two albums of the five they have done) but, I’ve never really taken to frontman Brent Smith. When I first saw this band in 2013, as special guests to Alter Bridge, I was unimpressed with his tendency to make long, rambling speeches (while standing on a box) between songs. Last year’s set was an improvement however, his between-song chats were shorter and this time out, he and they were more focused on the songs, not the speeches. Opening with ‘Devour’ from their breakthrough album ‘The Sound of Madness’ they gave a hard-hitting but enjoyable set taking in material from that record, plus follow-up ‘Amaryllis’ and most recent offering ‘Threat To Survival’. Smith’s vocal sounded stronger this time too, and he was well backed vocally by guitarist Zach Myers.  He did try his usual trick of encouraging the audience to turn to each other and shake hands, to usual British resistance (!) and his main speech part came when introducing ‘Enemies’ – he came out into the crowd and urged the crowd (‘the legendary Liverpool’ as he called us!) to start jumping when he brought the band in. By and large however, it was more rock killer than filler, though he (like many of us) was shaken by the shock death of Chris Cornell just days before this show. He asked for – and got- a brief moment of silence from the crowd in memory of the Soundgarden frontman before resuming proceedings with ‘Cut The Cord’ from the last album. They ended with ‘The Sound Of Madness’ before making way. This was another improvement on the last time I saw them, as stated earlier I do like their music but had this been the performance I’d first seen from them, I’d probably be more of a fan than I actually am now.

Some things never change, and after some feverish work from the crew in decking out the stage in preparation for the headliners, a huge cheer went up when UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ came through the PA. The traditional prelude to a Maiden show, as soon as it was over the lights went down, as Bruce Dickinson appeared at the back of the stage atop a massive platform, behind what appeared to be a witches’ cauldron. He sang the intro from the back before the rest of the guys burst onto the stage, kicking their way into opener ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ from the current album. From that point it was traditional Maiden; Dickinson running all over the stage ramps while guitarist Janick Gers ran straight to the front, throwing his shapes, and balancing his left leg on the ‘speaker cabinet’ prop placed there specifically for his use! Gers comes across as the fan in the band; he remained with them even after Adrian Smith returned and it is he who has the most ‘face time’ as it were, always grabbing the attention alongside bassist Steve Harris while Smith and fellow axeman Dave Murray handle the majority of the lead guitar work. Janick’s role is more cheerleader, his guitar parts live tend to duplicate Adrian Smith’s (he replicates the solo in ‘The Trooper’ note for note for instance) but acts as the foil for Dickinson’s stage antics. It’s Gers who gets grabbed by the head, or has a flag dangled in front of him by the singer for instance, but amazingly, never misses a note while all that’s going on!

The set obviously was slanted towards ‘The Book Of Souls’ album with six tracks played from it, but if you aren’t familiar with those songs help is always at hand from Steve Harris; as usual he was up there at the front of the stage, resplendent in his West Ham colours and P-bass, mouthing the words along so we could all join in! There was room for older songs of course, and Bruce made mention of the fact he knew that there were many there who weren’t born when ‘Children Of The Damned’ was first released, which they then played. Naturally ‘The Trooper’ had me reaching for the air guitar, at least until a pit started (!)

The current album has its fair share of epics including ‘The Red And The Black’ and the title track itself, which saw a ten-feet tall Eddie make his customary stage appearance. He joked around with Janick Gers before Bruce appeared to ‘remove’ his heart, and spray us all with fake blood! As well as that the guys reached back to 1984 for another epic, ‘Powerslave’ from the album of the same name which saw the singer don a mask for the track. You know it’s getting near the end when ‘Fear Of The Dark’ is played, with the crowd chanting it’s opening refrain and of course, the main set ended with ‘Iron Maiden’ as the huge Eddie head appeared over the stage. The encore was (of course) ‘Number Of The Beast’, with ‘Blood Brothers’ and finally, ‘Wasted Years’ – which is another air guitar favourite of mine!

This was a night that will live long in the memory; Bruce was in jovial form all night and you could see him laughing away as he joked with bandmates throughout. He can be spiky at times, if he feels the crowd isn’t with him but there were no worries on that score tonight, as he gave shoutouts to the various flags he saw in the crowd – pausing to ask what someone from San Antonio was doing in Liverpool! He then risked a few jeers (and cheers from this punter!) at the mention of Liverpool FC boss Jürgen Klopp; the singer revealed that Klopp (a fan of the band) was meant to be there tonight but because of ‘other commitments’ (i.e. his team’s game the next day) he was unable to attend. Bruce then reiterated that all who come to a Maiden gig are welcome no matter who you are or where you’re from, to universal cheers.

This band have maintained their status throughout many musical trends, never fitting in with what’s popular and never caring one iota, while their fans just kept on coming. In that respect they’re similar to AC/DC or even Rush, bands who also exist in their own bubble with a fanbase which turns out regardless of trends. Watching these guys do their thing for two hours left me amazed, it was as though they were still in their thirties, their fitness levels must be off the scale to keep that up night after night. In addition, Dickinson’s vocal performance was top-notch, for a guy who recently battled cancer he was astounding.

Almost three decades since they were last here, it was well worth the wait. Whether we’ll see the guys do this again in arenas is unknown, but they wouldn’t be the first band to want to keep it going as long as possible. It was a privilege to see their return to this city at long last, and if they do decide to go around once more, they’re welcome back – hopefully not in another 27 years’ time!

5 – Delightful

Caught Live: Status Quo (with REO Speedwagon, The Lounge Kittens), Echo Arena Liverpool 23 December 2016

The shocking news of long-time Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt’s death has overshadowed the events of this gig, which took place the previous night. A full blog post commemorating his music will follow, for the time being this review (which had already been started when the news broke) relating to the final show of 2016 by his old band is dedicated to his memory.

This tour was announced way back in March of 2016, so long ago that I and my friend who had actually booked this show almost forgot about it! A lot has happened since the dates were announced, when it was declared that this would be Quo’s last full-on ‘electric’ tour. The success of their ‘Aquostic’ and ‘Aquostic II’ albums (featuring acoustically-styled reworkings of the band’s classics) has prompted frontman Francis Rossi to pursue that direction in future, and with the guys now getting on in years now he may feel that five decades touting a Telecaster is quite enough. However he could not have foreseen that his old partner Rick Parfitt would have been forced to retire from the road by the time these dates came around; having (barely) survived yet another heart attack he immediately called time on live performances. With dates still to fulfil, the group first drafted in Freddie Edwards (son of Quo bassist John ‘Rhino’ Edwards) on rhythm guitar, before settling on Ritchie Malone to take over one of the most thankless tasks in rock.

The Quo have often found room for a date in Liverpool on recent tours, they were here at around the same time last year, complete with Parfitt on the now ironically-titled ‘Accept No Substitute’ tour.  In May of this year they performed at nearby Prenton Park on the Wirral (home of Tranmere Rovers FC) in what would prove to be one of Parfitt’s final live performances. Their support acts are usually worth a look themselves; the likes of 10cc and Wilko Johnson have supported in recent years and for this run of dates, they brought along veteran American act REO Speedwagon. That in itself was of interest to me as I’d never seen that band before, despite their having been around for almost as long as Quo have.

Before all of that, as I and my friend entered the arena there was another act already on stage. Three female singers calling themselves The Lounge Kittens were performing what appeared to be totally inappropriate lounge music, however the penny quickly dropped that they were singing hard rock/metal favourites in a three-part harmony style, and I had to laugh when I worked out that they were covering ‘Rollin’ by Limp Bizkit! One of the singers (Jenny Deacon) also plays electric piano, the only instrument used aside from their voices. They even had the nerve to deliver a superb take on Quo’s ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ before closing with a medley of classic rock hits, starting and ending with Queen numbers (‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, then ‘We Are The Champions’) and taking in such hits as ‘Alone’ (full marks to them for doing that one; Jenny Deacon came close to the power of the great Ann Wilson herself there). I will definitely look out for these girls again, they put a smile on the faces of the early arrivals.

The Lounge Kittens at Echo Arena

The Lounge Kittens at Echo Arena

REO Speedwagon arrived next, as a battery of drums from aptly-named drummer Bryan Hitt led into a storming ‘Don’t Let Him Go’ from their breakthrough ‘Hi Infidelity’ album. Frontman Kevin Cronin is almost unrecognisable from his 1980s heyday, the big hair of those days now replaced by a neater crop of grey hair. However his voice has held up well considering he must be in his mid-sixties at least by now, and the group were surprisingly harder-hitting live than their hit records might suggest. The ten-song set included many of their favourites, with ‘Take It On The Run’ coming second song in. A speech from Cronin followed, expressing some surprise that this was their first time ever in Liverpool, and naturally namechecking the Beatles as influences (this band are of the generation to have been directly influenced by not only the Beatles, but also many other British bands of that era who struck gold in America during the 1960s). The singer went as far as to claim that had it not been for the Fab Four, he wouldn’t have written any songs let alone hits such as ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ which was subsequently performed. They even covered ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ in a harder-rocking style than perhaps some would have expected. Next came one of my favourites of theirs: ‘Back On The Road Again’, with vocal from bassist (and writer of this track) Bruce Hall. This was the heavier part of the set, as Cronin next dedicated ‘Ridin’ The Storm Out’ to the late Gary Richrath (the long-time guitar player for this band). Current guitarist Dave Amato gave a fine performance, rocking hard where appropriate and playing with tasteful restraint otherwise.

Cronin took to the piano next to perform their best-known hit in this country ‘Keep On Lovin’ You’, before closing out with the epic ‘Roll With The Changes’. They may have left it late to play their biggest tour in this country to date (albeit as a support band) but they went down very well with the Liverpool audience, and it’s to be hoped they do return to these shores again soon.

REO Speedwagon at Echo Arena

REO Speedwagon at Echo Arena

The announcement earlier this year that Quo’s winter tour would go ahead without Rick Parfitt disappointed some fans, who took up the option of a refund on their tickets. However the band were committed to the dates, and in a similar position to AC/DC who also had to continue their tour minus a key member this year. Quo’s decision to bring in a relatively unknown musician in the shape of Ritchie Malone was probably a wise move, a bigger name (if one were available) may have turned this tour into a circus. It was clear from the off though, just what big shoes Parfitt’s are to fill. Opening with ‘Caroline’, the onus immediately fell on the stand-in to power out the opening chords. There was nothing wrong with his playing, it just felt a little bit empty without that mighty presence on the rhythm guitar. I also suspect he was not as high in the mix as might be expected, it was noticeable that keyboardist Andrew Bown and bassist Rhino Edwards were more prominent in the sound balance than has been the case previously. There was a definite feeling of these guys ‘stepping up to the plate’ to try and make up for Parfitt’s absence; second song in ‘The Wanderer’ saw Bown take over Parfitt’s vocal part (and demonstrating a better singing voice than that of Rossi, if the truth be told!) while it was Edwards who took lead vocal for ‘Rain’ (one of Parfitt’s signature songs, and it was something of a surprise to me that they elected to play it).

A treat for older fans came when Rossi declared (after some of his usual banter with the crowd) they would play ‘Softer Ride’. Another old favourite (‘Hold You Back’) had some of the crowd swaying in the aisles, before the inevitable medley. Medleys are not my thing in truth, but the Quo have done them for as long as I can remember, even dating back to the time when they headlined at Donington. (For younger readers, I am not joking – Quo headlined at Donington in 1982. They did, I saw it!) ‘Gerdundula’ has now become a live staple, as the whole group including drummer Leon Cave come out to the front of the stage. Without Parfitt alongside him, Rossi has had to adjust; Malone takes a much lower profile, often positioned at the back alongside the amps and the frontman was seen ‘conferring’ with Rhino at times as well as the other guys in the way he used to do with Parfitt. Quo were always seen as Francis, Rick and ‘the other guys’ since relaunching the band in the 80s, but now it does come across as more of an ensemble. That’s probably unfair on Rhino, a member of the band since 1986 as well as Bown who has been an official member for 40 years but that is definitely the perception of this new-look Quo. The hits such as ‘Roll Over Lay Down’ and ‘Whatever You Want’ (another Parfitt signature, again it was Bown who handled his vocal part) kept the crowd bouncing before main set closer ‘Rockin All Over The World’.

Status Quo at Echo Arena 2016

Status Quo at Echo Arena 2016

The encore featured ‘Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again)’ and traditional closer ‘Rock and Roll Music/Bye Bye Johnny’ before the group took their bows for what was claimed to be the last time in this guise. The band have since announced a further run of electric dates (including some festivals) for Europe in 2017 though, so it may not be the last time we see the Telecasters on the stage just yet.

To conclude, this was a very good performance under tricky circumstances by the Quo, Parfitt is one of the great rhythm guitarists in rock, and without him there the difference is marked, but they worked around it well. If they do carry on in this guise into next year, and they come this way again, I’ll be back.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Nickelback (with Monster Truck), Echo Arena Liverpool 22 October 2016

I’ll say this for Nickelback: whenever they tour the arenas of the UK they invariably stop off at Liverpool’s arena. That isn’t something that can be said for most rock tours that come to this country, and as a result despite this place having been on the circuit for eight years now I still find myself traversing the M62 to Manchester far too often. They do draw a good crowd here too, although just as I did when they played here on a previous tour, I was able to get a ticket on the night for the standing area. On entering the arena, only the back blocks of the upper tier were sectioned off, suggesting that many had booked for the seats. That proved to be the case, as the seats were full shortly before the headliners appeared.

I had however wanted to see fellow Canadians Monster Truck who were the support, as what I’d heard from current album ‘Sittin’ Heavy’ I’d liked. The hall was still filling up as they came on stage at around 7:30 and proceeded to rock the hell out of the early attendees. A four-piece band fronted by bassist/vocalist Jon Harvey, they were as heavy live as they are on record, it came across as rather ‘stoner rock’ with satisfyingly sludgy guitar from Jeremy Widerman (playing a Gibson SG, he had the tone of Iommi with the stage presence of Angus Young – shirtless, bounding all over the stage), old-school Hammond-style keyboards from Brandon Bliss and relentless pounding from drummer Steve Kiely (who looked uncannily like Dead Daisies’ Brian Tichy to these eyes).

Monster Truck's Jon Harvey

Monster Truck’s Jon Harvey

The Truckers had about 45 minutes to make an impression and were boosted during ‘For The People’ by a surprise appearance from Nickelback’s Ryan Peake, which brought huge cheers from the still-swelling audience. It’s always a good sign when a member of the main act comes on during the opening act, it shows they’re there because the headliners wanted them, not because they had to ‘buy on’ as still happens all too often. Their set of old-school, hard-driving rock was very enjoyable and I would love to see them in a more intimate venue such as Liverpool’s o2 Academy; I reckon they could rock that place down the way the likes of Black Stone Cherry and Halestorm have done in the past.

Nickelback have scaled back their stage show in recent years; when I first saw them in 2009 they brought pyro, more lights than Blackpool Illuminations and an ‘ego ramp’ that not only extended well into the floor but had a drum kit of its own at the end of it! They pared it back on The Hits Tour a few years back and this time around, there were ramps to the side but aside from a couple of video screens and an effective lighting rig (allowing me to take snaps at a mere 800 ISO on the pocket camera!) it was just the guys and their instruments. They don’t really need gimmicks; they have plenty of singalong anthems and in Chad Kroeger, a frontman who is able to take command of an arena audience easily. He and fellow guitarist Ryan Peake were frequently calling for their tech to bring out drinks, toasting the Liverpool audience as they went along. It became something of a running gag, but it didn’t impair their performance. Kroeger is underrated as a live performer; a strong vocalist, he is also a good lead guitarist (even performing one number ‘fingerstyle’) as well as having a self-effacing sense of humour, joking among his bandmates and with the audience. When introducing the band, he observed how the female element of the audience would crane their necks to look past him at ‘handsome dude’ drummer Daniel Adair (!) Adair and also Peake provide good backing vocals, with the latter taking lead on occasion. The band performed ‘Hero’ (from the ‘Spider-Man’ soundtrack, credited to Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott), with Peake taking the Scott vocal lines. He was also given lead vocal duties in the encore, which featured a surprise cover of the Foo Fighters’ ‘Everlong’.

Chad Kroeger of Nickelback at Liverpool

Chad Kroeger of Nickelback

About midway through the frontman joked that he was glad that there were women in the audience, as they’d have to ‘become a Metal band’ if they stopped coming (!). They do play some material that is definitely Heavy Metal, but their enduring strength lies in that they really do have something for everyone, be it power ballads, fun rock ‘n’ roll, or even a bit of protest with set opener ‘Edge Of A Revolution’. The classic bands of the past mixed it up, and these guys are wise to do the same thing. Towards the end of the night, they invited up three fans to perform ‘Rock Star’ with the band. Two young girls (Faye and Georgia, if memory serves!) nervously shared one microphone while the older male who joined them (George, recognised by Chad Kroeger as having been on the front at most of the UK dates) was much more upfront, All knew the song word-for-word, and George enjoyed his three minutes of fame thoroughly, with his ‘backing singers’ providing a little bit of glamour on the stage!

Ryan Peake of Nickelback at Liverpool

Ryan Peake of Nickelback

They finished of course with ‘How You Remind Me’, and encored with the aforementioned cover of ‘Everlong’ before deciding to throw in an extra song for the Liverpool audience. That meant ditching the guitars already strapped on by Kroeger and Peake for different ones (they’d been swapping guitars frequently throughout the night) in order to play ‘Where Do I Hide’ (a track from breakthrough album ‘Silver Side Up’) before finally ending with scheduled closer ‘Burn It To The Ground’.

Daniel Adair of Nickelback

Daniel Adair of Nickelback

This is the fourth occasion I’ve seen Nickelback play (third time in Liverpool) and each time I’ve been scratching my head as to why they are so hated by the press; they have good songs, they play them well, they provide a lot of enjoyment to those who come to see them and they always draw a good crowd whenever they play. That’s really all people want from a live band, and this group know how to give an audience a good night out. My only slight criticism is that they didn’t play much from most recent album ‘No Fixed Address’; the set was loaded with their hits once again and perhaps they feel that they ought to give their public what they want. Perhaps that’s it – they play for their fans, not the self-appointed ‘tastemakers’ who think they are so influential about what the masses should see and hear.

As long as Nickelback put their fans before their critics they’ll continue to thrive, and I look forward to their return to Liverpool whenever they play this country next.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Echo Arena Liverpool 5 April 2016

I’ve been a fan of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) from a very young age; one of the first singles I bought out of my own pocket money was ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, their take on a Chuck Berry standard. I remember buying their LP ‘A New World Record’ from my local Woolworths and, having precious little else of my own then, played it constantly.

From about 1976 to 1980 ELO were unstoppable; they enjoyed a string of hit singles and albums and played a landmark series of concerts at Wembley Arena in 1978, featuring the iconic ‘spaceship’ stage set. By the 1980s however, group leader Jeff Lynne had parted company with most of the old band members and turned his hand to producing; working with major names including Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison he eventually formed the Traveling Wilburys with these artists, releasing two albums.

In more recent years Lynne has kept a very low profile, releasing records only sporadically. It was a major surprise in 2012 when he announced the release of two albums; one a compilation of newly re-recorded ELO hits and the other (‘Long Wave’, issued under his own name) was a tip of the hat to early rock ‘n’ roll artists who influenced him while he was growing up in Birmingham. With his profile high once more, he agreed to a one-off performance in London’s Hyde Park which took place in autumn 2014, broadcast on BBC TV and radio. The show was a huge success, featuring a completely new line-up (save for keyboardist Richard Tandy) and attracted 50,000 spectators. That show has led to Lynne recording a brand new album under the name ‘Jeff Lynne’s ELO’ (‘Alone In The Universe’) and he has finally been tempted back on the road to support it. The announcement of live dates late last year caught me by surprise certainly, knowing how reclusive the man is and also knowing of his dislike of touring. The even bigger surprise was that the first show was to take place here in Liverpool. The tickets for all shows on this UK tour (calling at most large arenas in the country) sold out straight away, proving that the man’s music still appeals even 40 years on from the group’s heyday.

Expectations for this show were high (as was the ticket price!), and I entered the Echo Arena to find myself about 2/3 back on the (seated) main floor. That meant the performers would be fairly distant, but I was expecting a lavish stage and light show to accompany the music.

Openers were The Feeling, a five piece band from Sussex who had a few hits in the Noughties. They were a good live act, but their material (somewhat lightweight guitar-based pop-rock) rather washed over me. Only occasionally did they crank things up, they can rock hard when they want to but there wasn’t enough of that for me to get into them, my only glimmer of recognition was when they did their song which featured on FIFA 07 (‘Sewn’). For all that, they went down well with those who came early and vocalist/guitarist Dan Gillespie Sells acknowledged that their set was ‘probably a better fit’ with this crowd than when they supported Bon Jovi on a previous tour.

During the interval the music played was a selection of tracks produced by Jeff Lynne, with the PA treating us to George Harrison, Roy Orbison,  Tom Petty (and of course the Traveling Wilburys featuring all of those artists), plus ‘Free As A Bird’ which Lynne produced with the surviving Beatles in the 1990s.

When the main act came on the stage, the first impression was that there were a lot of them! A staggering twelve personnel were on the stage backing Jeff Lynne, with Richard Tandy placed front and centre of the stage (reflecting his status as a member of the classic ELO band). There were two other keyboard players, an additional guitarist as well as musical director Mike Stevens, a bassist (interestingly, left-handed, in the city which spawned the most famous bass player in rock ‘n roll), a drummer, two backing vocalists (one male, one female) and of course, a string section of two cellists and a violinist. The string players were all women, which may have helped fans of the classic band get over the fact that it wasn’t the original players (!)  The visuals were now in full effect also, with screens showing a simulated trip through space as a symphonic intro built up. This opening sequence brought it home to me how strongly many symphonic Metal bands around today have been influenced by what Jeff Lynne and ELO were doing back in the 1970s.

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Jeff Lynne’s ELO live in Liverpool

They sprang a surprise with the first song: ‘Tightrope’ from the ‘A New World Record’ album. Not an obvious opener perhaps (although it is first track on that album) as it wasn’t a hit single but the next song certainly was (‘Evil Woman’). The audience were already in the palm of Lynne’s hand after this, although he kept his stage patter to a minimum (‘I love it here in Liverpool’, he told us) before launching into early hit ‘Showdown’.  ‘All Over The World’ from the ‘Xanadu’ soundtrack followed, and by this stage the audience were in raptures.  A comment from the mainman that this show was the first one he’s played ‘like this’ in 30 years brought the house down (erm, Hyde Park, Jeff? ) but presumably he meant as a show on a UK tour, which he hasn’t done in many a long year.

elo-view.JPG

Some new material finally came five songs in with the latest album’s lead-off track ‘When I Was A Boy’; that was the cue for some to head to the bar. This must be a little disappointing for Lynne, although they were soon back in place when the band performed 1976 hit ‘Livin’ Thing’ . One track I wasn’t expecting was ‘Rockaria!’, also from ‘A New World Record’; in days gone by it was former bassist Kelly Groucutt who performed the operatic vocal intro live (now performed by backing singer Melanie Lewis-McDonald). During this number, Lynne traded lead vocal with backing vocalist Iain Hornal. After another newie (‘When The Night Comes’, featuring a rare lead guitar solo from Lynne) the band then performed ‘Secret Messages’, the title track from their almost-forgotten 1983 album.

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Richard Tandy, Donavan Hepurn and Jeff Lynne

Following the slower ‘Steppin’ Out’ the set was hit after hit down the stretch,  with ‘Shine A Little Love’, ‘Wild West Hero’ and ‘Turn To Stone’ getting the audience up on their feet. ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ kept things bubbling, and hit single ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’ featured Tandy using the vocoder for the first time all night. ‘Telephone Line’ then ‘Mr Blue Sky’ ended the main set with the band taking bows then all standing in line for a group photo before the packed arena audience.

That wasn’t the end of course, no ELO gig is complete without a run through of Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’. This included a lengthy jam between Lynne and his backing musicians.

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Impressive visuals throughout the show

I was much too young to see the classic band in their pomp, and their landmark series of shows at Wembley Arena in 1978 came a few years too soon for me. As the band had long dissolved and Lynne having become a virtual recluse in later years, I never thought I’d get to see for myself the guy who wrote so many great songs step on a stage. The fact that he chose to do so in Liverpool first made it all the more satisfying, my only question would be: Jeff, what took you so long?

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Jeff Lynne’s long awaited touring comeback began in Liverpool

5gtrs

Delightful