Review: Jeff Lynne's ELO brings blue skies to Little Caesars Arena

The band sounded crisp and clean during its first Detroit concert in almost 40 years

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

After the news of Aretha Franklin's passing on Thursday, Detroit was in need of some healing. 

Jeff Lynne and ELO open up Thursday night's tightly arranged concert at Little Caesars Arena, running through the art-rock's group catalog of hits.

As the touring gods would have it, "Mr. Blue Sky" himself, Jeff Lynne, was lined up for a sold-out concert at Little Caesars Arena with Jeff Lynne's ELO, the one-time Electric Light Orchestra, marking the band's first appearance on a Detroit concert stage since 1981. 

While there were no covers of Aretha tunes or even a mention of the Queen of Soul, it turns out that 90 minutes of blissful, bright-eyed experimental pop was just the affirmation of life the crowd needed. 

Lynne and his band, a tight 12-piece (including three keyboard players) that at times sounded twice as large, were pristine, providing studio-quality audio inside a hockey arena. (They must have soundchecked for six hours to sound that clean.) In Little Caesars Arena's short history, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding concert, and you might not hear another one this good anytime soon.  

Lynne and company — no one from the original band, not that it mattered — played a hits-packed 19-song show, backed by a stellar light show and a backdrop of five video screens. 

The video screens projected images of green glitter, fireworks explosions, visions of the stars; they could have been better utilized if they focused on the musicians.

But the songs, wow.

ELO's catalog is packed with complex, multi-layered songs, full of string sections doing loop-the-loops and dive-bombing guitars, and the recreations were spot-on. "Livin' Thing" and "10538 Overture" were full of beaming energy, while "Shine a Little Love," aided by an assault of green lasers, turned the arena into a space disco dance party. 

ELO has enough hits in the tank to be one of those bands that hits the summer amphitheater circuit every summer, playing double bills with Boston, the Doobie Brothers or whoever else is willing to pair up for a shed tour. 

But Lynne sat it out rather than driving his band into the ground and becoming a rock cliché. 

Jeff Lynne's ELO is a 12-member ensemble, featuring cellos, violins, and three keyboards. In this picture, the band is performing its classic hit "Evil Woman."

Thursday's show was better for it: there was a pent-up demand for the songs and a true appreciation for the performance. That's because it felt like something special, something earned. The more bands hit the road, the less the experience means. It's not easy to wait it out — you have to have confidence the audience will still be there for you when you come back — but Thursday's show proved the audience will wait, and the wait will be worth it. 

Filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and David O. Russell have kept ELO's music cool, which is important for an outfit whose chief musical output was more than 40 years ago. While the audience skewed toward the 50s set, there were at least a few in the audience who warmed to the group thanks to placement in films such as "Boogie Nights" and "American Hustle." 

Late in the night, the buoyant "Telephone Line" and "Don't Bring Me Down" (featured in a semi-recent Budweiser campaign) were a formidable pair, while the bouncy, effervescent "Mr. Blue Sky" closed the set.

Lynne, who thanked the crowd several times for being a "fantastic" audience, brought the band back out for a roaring encore of "Roll Over Beethoven." And if we don't see ELO back on a Detroit stage again, at least Lynne gave us one last night of blue skies.

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