Judge Jim Thomas can't get this disc out of his head. Must be some strange magic. Or an evil woman.
Our review of Electric Light Orchestra Out Of the Blue Tour Live at Wembley, published November 12th, 2004, is also available.
Get your electric cello freak on!
With their Beatles-inspired fusion of rock and classical sensibilities, Electric Light Orchestra was one of the seminal progressive rock groups of the Seventies. In both their sound and in their stage shows, they've had a massive impact on the musical scene even today (see Trans-Siberian Orchestra for an obvious one). In 1978, their Out of the Blue tour set records in sales and in stagecraft, with a stage designed as a giant flying saucer and lit up with laser beams. That kind of stuff is commonplace now, of course, but ELO did it back when it was hard. At that point, they were one of several supergroups dominating the pop charts. Only just a few short years before, ELO was still just a bunch of guys struggling to realize their musical vision. Eagle Rock Entertainment brings us ELO Live: The Early Years, which provides a fascinating glimpse at the then-nascent group.
ELO was formed in 1971, but it was several years before they got all the kinks worked out. It was the strings that proved problematic—not only did they have to figure out how to effectively arrange for such a disparate group of instruments, but they also had to solve the technical issues involved in miking and mixing the strings. The problem's really a double whammy, because you have to solve the problem for both the sound studio and for live performances. The attraction of this disc is that that it covers the years in which the two problems were overcome, setting the stage—literally—for the phenomenal success that followed. Both problems are front and center in the first concert set from a 1973 performance at Brunel University in London; the band has great energy, but you can hear that the pieces just don't quite fit yet. By the second set, a 1974 performance for the German TV show Rockpalast, some of the arrangement issues have been worked out, but the technical side is still an issue—still, you'll love the balls to the wall energy of their cover of "Great Balls of Fire." Fortunately, they finally got things worked out, as seen in the third set, filmed during the 1976 Face the Music tour. By this point, the engineering issues have been worked out, and the group has found their distinctive sound. This set is substantially longer than the other two sets, and features a number of ELO classics, including "Can't Get It Out of My Head." "Strange Magic," and "Evil Woman." The three sets form a great progression; several songs appear on two or more sets, giving you a better feel for the group's development; an early hit, "Ma-ma-ma Belle," is in all three sets.
This is Eagle Rock, so exceptional sound quality is a given. I loves me their DTS tracks. Despite the age of the source material, the audio is crisp and clean; there are some balance and blending issues in the first two sets, but they're a product of the group's own engineering issues, not the disc's. Video is relatively clean, but is nothing to write home about. The first set in particular has a good bit of dirt, and there's some color blending, but let's just say that filming conditions were less than optimal. The only extra is a brief excerpt from an interview from the Rockpalast show—basically, the members introduce themselves, and then they spend about 30 seconds talking about the problems they had figuring out how to mike the strings before the interview abruptly stops; presumably the rest of the interview was lost (as the interview was for German TV, the interview has German subtitles). Considering the significance of the technical problems in the band's development and on this disc, it would have been nice if Eagle Rock had scrounged up some additional material on the issue.
If you're an ELO fan, or just a fan of early prog rock, you want this disc. I'm not a big fan myself, but when the dust settled, I had four ELO albums on my iPod.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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