In the latter days of The Move, the band’s alpha males – founder Roy Wood and newcomer Jeff Lynne – expressed a desire to go beyond the typical three-minute pop song. Wishing to continue where the Beatles left off with “I Am the Walrus,” the duo launched a new venture with Move drummer Bev Bevan that incorporated orchestral instruments into a rock context. The Move was dead, but from its ashes rose the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). After some disagreements over the band’s direction, Wood left during the recording of its second album, leaving Lynne as the leader of ELO. It is these early years under Lynne’s guidance that are chronicled in the DVD Electric Light Orchestra – Live: The Early Years.
The DVD begins with footage from Brunel University 1973. This footage, along with all the other footage on the disc, is in surprisingly good condition and appears to be from broadcast masters. Here we find the band mixing classics such as Lynne’s “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” with the classical as the band takes on Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” the latter of which is done in a surprisingly faithful arrangement. Jerry Lee Lewis most likely did not envision cellos and violins when he recorded “Great Balls of Fire,” but the band makes the seemingly absurd combination work, rocking out on the early rock and roll gem. Fans of 1970s fashion should be on the lookout for violinist Mik Kaminski’s cape, which seemingly does not seem out of place amidst the other clothing choices for this concert.
Up next is the band’s appearance on the German television show Rockpalast from 1974. An interview from this show is included on the DVD is a bonus feature. The set list is similar to the Brunel show, but the band appears more confident and loose in this performance. The band delivers a raw version of the instrumental “Daybreaker” with some excellent keyboard work by Richard Tandy. Both the ’73 and ’74 shows include cellist Mike Edwards, who recently died when he was stuck by a runaway bail of hay. An unconventional death for sure, but this was an unconventional band.
The final performance included is the Fusion concert from 1976 recorded at the New Victoria Theatre in London, England. This show documents the early part of ELO as a hit-making machine with songs such as “Can’t Get it Out of My Head,” “Evil Woman,” and “Strange Magic” gracing the set list. On the latter, drummer Bev Bevan comes to the front of the stage to contribute his distinct bass harmonies. The show features a medley of songs that originated from Lynne’s time in The Move – “10538 Overture” from the first ELO album and “Do Ya,” which was originally a Move single, but reworked for the then-new A New World Record. Most notable to this show is the addition of the band’s new bassist, the late Kelly Groucutt, who shared vocals with Lynne on many of the songs and really added the missing link to the band’s live vocal sound.
The DVD includes Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound options and really the only negative for fans here is the non-inclusion of a few songs. For what seem to be copyright reasons, versions of “Roll Over Beethoven” from 1974 and 1976 and “Day Tripper” from 1974 have not been included here. Curiously, they are included on the UK edition of this DVD. That is the only thing keeping this from being an A+ for ELO fans however and anyone interested in seeing the band before the spaceships took over the live stage would enjoy Electric Light Orchestra – Live: The Early Years.
Article first published as Music DVD Review: Electric Light Orchestra – Live: The Early Years on Blogcritics.