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Review - Jeff Lynne’s ELO: “Wembley or Bust”

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There is a moment during the new concert film “Jeff Lynne’s ELO: Wembley or Bust,” filmed in June at London’s Wembley Stadium, which speaks volumes about the famously reserved and humble hit-making legend. 

Captured during the production rehearsal held the night before Lynne and his band performed for a sellout crowd of 60,000, Lynne softly states “That’s the best ELO has ever sounded,” before cheekily adding “You lucky people” and then, in case anyone misconstrued the joke, adding a quick “Just kidding!” before taking a sip of tea.

Reinvigorated after a rapturously-received concert in London’s Hyde Park in 2014, Lynne promised (and delivered) a new ELO album (2015’s “Alone In The Universe”) and a tour which has encompassed 40 shows to date, including a massive concert at Wembley Stadium which Lynne called “The best time I ever had in music. It was beyond anything I could have imagined.”

The resulting document, issued as a standalone two-CD set, and in tandem with either a Blu-ray or DVD disc of the entire concert, is a two-hour celebration of Lynne’s career with Electric Light Orchestra, the band he co-founded in 1970.

The resulting film, “Wembley or Bust,” was directed by Paul Dugdale, a young London-based filmmaker known for recent documentaries on Adele, Coldplay, The Rolling Stones and Ed Sheeran.

Dugdale’s cameras successfully captured the enormity of the event while somehow instilling a sense of intimacy between the band and the viewer.

During one of the brief between-song interview clips with Lynne, the musician maintains that it was his father who insisted that he “never get a big head” regardless of his success in music. That he appeared gobsmacked at the notion of 60,000 fans filling Wembley Stadium just to see him would make his father proud.

As one of the most successful pop songwriters of the 1970s and 1980s, Lynne placed 20 singles under the ELO name on the Billboard top 40 chart. Most of those hits appear on “Wembley or Bust” in versions performed as close to the originals as humanly possible.

Finally, technology has caught up with Lynne, allowing him to recreate those densely produced classic ELO songs with a 13-piece band. According to Lynne, this is how he has always envisioned ELO sounding in a concert setting.

While most of ELO’s hits are represented (including “Evil Woman,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” “Telephone Line,” “Mr. Blue Sky,” “Turn To Stone” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”), there are a few notable omissions in the set list, including the 1976 hit “Strange Magic” and ‘80s hits “Hold on Tight” and “Rock and Roll is King.”

The visual quality on the Blu-ray disc for “Wembley or Bust” is simply stunning. The high definition cameras captured the entirety of the June 24, 2017 performance, including the special effects and scenes of blissful concertgoers of all ages dancing and singing along, with a unique tone and astonishing clarity.

Thankfully (like Dugdale’s recent film “Ole! Ole! Ole!” representing The Rolling Stones’ recent tour of Latin America) “Wembley or Bust” avoids the hyperkinetic editing employed on numerous contemporary concert films, allowing the viewer to absorb the shot before cutting to the next.

The audio quality featured on the PCM stereo track on the Blu-ray disc is impressive, although I would have preferred the option of an adventurous 5.1 surround mix. That the set lacks a 5.1 option is a bit odd, but not a total surprise. The DVD for the aforementioned Hyde Park concert of 2014 is also a stereo-only affair, lending credence to the theory that Lynne himself is not a fan of surround sound.

The music on the CDs, Blu-ray and DVD was mixed by Lynne and mastered by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering in Portland, Maine. The CDs sound good but are inferior to the PCM stereo track on the Blu-ray. 

For fans of Jeff Lynne, “Wembley or Bust” is a brilliant document of the current version of Electric Light Orchestra. Lynne has already announced 31 concert dates for the United States and Europe scheduled for 2018.

Over the last several years, Lynne has discovered that his audience never left him. It will be exciting to see his next move.

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