Though Jeff Lynne and company simply walked onto the stage of the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, rather than landing via spaceship as they did in their late-'70s heyday, their presence alone felt otherworldly. It has, after all, been more than 30 years since Lynne last performed with ELO in Philadelphia, so the opportunity was about as rare as a UFO sighting.
There have been other versions of Electric Light Orchestra in the meantime; original drummer Bev Bevan, along with other longtime band members, toured as ELO Part II throughout the '90s. After Bevan's departure, that version of the band continues as the Orchestra.
That would explain the legal reasoning behind the prominent branding of "Jeff Lynne's ELO," but the possessive name also seems like an act of reclamation. For all the gifted musicians that helped achieve Lynne's perfectionist vision, ELO was always his creation, a neon-hued Frankenstein's monster built from bits of early rock-and-roll, symphonic themes, Beatles harmonies, and disco beats.
All of those pieces came together flawlessly at the Wells Fargo, played to perfection by a band of hired guns (not even keyboardist Richard Tandy, the last remaining original member in Lynne's circle, was aboard for this 10-city tour). Lynne's voice sounds as if it has been kept under glass for the last three decades – which it virtually has, as the producer has rarely emerged from his studio.
Hidden, as always, behind a mask of facial hair and dark glasses, Lynne comes across as less reclusive than reluctant. The silvery jacket he wore onstage gave the impression of a comfy sweater-vest, and aside from the glee apparent from the triumphant fist bumps with which he ended several songs, it always seems as if he'd be more at ease in front of a warm fireplace, or at least at a mixing console, than in front of a packed arena.
From the opening notes of "Standin' in the Rain" and on through 80 minutes of nearly nonstop hits, Lynne and his latest incarnation of ELO held the largely boomer-aged crowd rapt Friday. Lynne tore off a crisp, concise guitar solo on "Showdown," but he was just as happy to yield the spotlight: to violinist Rosie Langley on "Livin' Thing" or to backing vocalist Melanie Lewis McDonald for the operatic strains of "Rockaria!" – one song where the band's usual bombast slips into outright silliness.
Towering video screens transmitted images of glaring eyes during "Evil Woman" and desert landscapes for "Wild West Hero," while laser beams criss-crossed the arena for "Shine a Little Love" – and that jukebox-styled spacecraft made an occasional digital flyby. Introducing a song by "my other band," Lynne launched into the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care," roars from the crowd greeting poignant images of his late bandmates George Harrison and, especially, Tom Petty.
The latter's influence could be heard throughout the competent but forgettable opening set by the LA band Dawes, whose sound evokes throwaway B-sides by the likes of Petty or Jackson Browne. Somewhere between Laurel Canyon breeziness and montage-ready 1980s pastiche, Dawes earned a fairly enthusiastic response from a crowd weaned on the band's influences.