Manchester Opera House

Manchester Opera House
Review by Katie Bray

Thu 23rd May 2024

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Just meet me at the Opera House… The ELO Experience, the UK’s leading, multi-award-winning tribute to Jeff Lynn’s Electric Light Orchestra, visited the Opera House in Manchester as part of its latest UK tour.

From the retro spacecraft logo to its varying number of changing members, Jeff Lyne’s Electric Light Orchestra is a band like no other. After forming in 1970 with frontman Roy Wood, drummer Bev Bevan, and guitarist/composer Jeff Lynne, the band went through several re-shuffles before Lynne ultimately adopted the role as frontman and voiced the majority of their biggest hits.

Their first number 1 came in 1979, sky-rocketing their fame to new levels, before writing for the movie ‘Xanadu’ in 1980, and disbanding in 1983.

ELO Part II made a short stint in this period under Bevan’s lead before Lynne made his comeback in 2014, and the band has been going strong ever since. Their sound will forever be impossible to pin-down and describe to a new listener. They created this progressive rock-pop genre with classical and operatic influences with thick layered instrumentation not dissimilar from Jim Steinman. Their rock styles vary from ballads or country rock to Elvis-like rock n’ roll and heavy rock riffs, yet at times they bring in the oddest sounds with opera solos, synthesised mishmashes of vocals, almost alien whirring sounds, and a John Williams-esque sense of grandeur in all of their pieces.

It truly is an artistic movement of music like no other, and thus a challenging performance to match for any tribute artist, especially with their popularity. But after ELO announced their final Over and Out Tour, it seems there’s no better time than now to relive the nostalgic magic of ELO’s grand and bizarro orchestra spectacular and see the UK’s most-renowned tribute.

The ELO Experience was founded 18 years ago in Hull with Andy Louis on lead vocals, taking on the pivotal role of original ELO band front-runner Jeff Lynne. Reportedly, the man is so dedicated that he has continued to perform throughout the years despite having had a heart-attack and surgery back in 2017. Other members include  Tom Johnstone on bass and vocals, Chris Marsh multi-tasking on the keyboards and vocoder, Jan Christiansen on vocals and killing it in solos as the lead guitarist, Tony Lawson in charge of the percussion with this sense of electricity filling the air as lightning effects radiated from his drums, Liz Stacey rocking it on the violin, and Francesca Holt and Rachel Hoffman both playing cello.

Individuals from this star-studded cast have toured all over the world (pardon the pun), played in other tribute bands or orchestras, remixed for Sony, entertained cruise ships, been involved in shows like Starlight Express, and the list goes on!

In reality, the success of the performance was largely going to lay on Andy Louis and his ability to impersonate Jeff Lynne’s vocals, alongside whether they could perfectly replicate the unique sound of the original band. I’m not ashamed to say that I was pleasantly surprised at Louis’ performance. Sporting the famous Lynne hairstyle and sunglasses, he performed unapologetically passionate and accurate iterations of their greatest hits.

While he doesn’t sound exactly like him, he perfectly captured the essence of Lynne’s voice and style, especially during the more challenging or higher pitch songs. Ultimately, he encapsulated the energy and swagger that drove the performance to unbelievable heights, clapping with the audience, dancing, messing with his bandmates, laughing as the audience chanted all the weird and wonderful parts of the songs along with him, and generally absorbing the atmosphere of a united ELO loving crowd.

Chris Marsh’s performance was actually awe-inspiring to watch as he played two keyboards, varied between their sounds for the songs, sang backing vocals, and sang the synthesised alien-like noises using the vocoder, as well as having two computers by his side! Additionally, he headed the special effects which heightened the show… Lets face it, you can’t have an ELO show without epic lighting, trippy effects, and on-stage banter.

While the show started with the lights slowly revolving the stage like search-lights or beams from the famous UFO before their grand entrance, they also created gorgeous alternating colour pallettes matching the screen or the vibes of the music.

While violins and cellos might not be the first thing you think of when you hear rock, as their name suggests, they are integral to Electric Light Orchestra’s twisted genre defying style. While the guitars accentuate and drive in many of the rock elements of their music, the strings constantly pull the music together, drive the rhythm or have their own solos throughout the majority of the music.

A particular stand-out strings performer in The ELO Experience’s ranks was Liz Stacey, who consistently wowed with her intricate and fast-paced playing, and a soft and melodic iteration of the opera segment of ‘Rockaria!’. If anything, I wish there were a few more moments that her and the other band members could just let loose and jam to showcase their amazing talents.

Playing a variety of the band’s greatest hits, the show opened with ‘All Over the World’ as a projector is revealed and their logo spreads across an image of the Earth, before later songs depict unknown planets, futuristic cities (like Xanadu!) and moving asteroid fields (much like many of the otherworldly album covers).

‘Living Thing’ went the more traditional light show-style with trippy visuals finally merging into a heart monitor, meanwhile ‘Wild West Hero’ had a simple cowboy silhouette and pastel colours to match the laid-back soft rock classic.

However, my favourite use of the screen by far was during the bizarro ‘Diary of Horace Wimp’. I’ve never seen such a funny music video in my life, but their inclusion of the LEGO fan video is pure genius and had me absolutely captivated while the band perfectly recreated every string, strum and solo – certainly a challengingly eccentric song for anyone to recreate… but that they did!

After the interval, they returned with even more hits, including ‘Hold on Tight’, featuring a fun subtitles gag for the French lyrics, and ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ with images from Tom and Jerry showing him conducting an orchestra and an old-timey rock n’ roll dance video paired with Louis’ own dance moves and some epic guitar riffs from Johnstone and Christiansen.

Ironically, the one thing the show was missing was a continuation of their sense of on-stage humour and energy, but before I could even contemplate how out came hilarious projections of dancing chimps and guitar-playing kittens during one of my all-time favourite’s: ‘Rock n’ Roll is King’.

Indeed, my favourite number usually involved clever usage of the screen, whether it was a simple moving video, or silly jokes, with the less strong projection being a simple piece of crumbling text for ‘Showdown’.

Finally, after standing ovations, the whole crowd joined in for ELO’s biggest hit: ‘Mr. Blue Sky’, and after an incredibly fun performance with the vocoder and guitar solos stealing the show, the band bade farewell with a futuristic city overlapping the Earth in a final nod to the band’s otherworldly sound.

My only real gripe was more of a personal grudge I have with people constantly getting up and down during the show for drinks as it really interrupts the flow of the performance, but this is completely beyond the band’s control.

Ironically, I did come in thinking nothing could come close to the greatness of the original band, but this experience silenced that theory! Even after the show, you could hear fans singing along as they left, muttering excitably about the show (including several who have been to see them before), and then there was me, playing ELO all the way home to keep the magic alive.

The ELO Experience has to be the most entertaining, theatrical and funny tribute show that I have ever seen, with a great understanding of the band’s musical roster and what makes them popular, a sprinkling of wit and onstage chemistry, and bucket-loads of enthusiasm and special effects fun. At times, it felt like I was watching the real ELO. The tribute band loved what they were doing and recreated every tiny detail to a T.

Photo: Katie Bray @ JaDar


  • Elo Experience

Katie Bray