During the month of June I went to two of the finest gigs I've ever seen. The first was part of Phil Collins' comeback tour at the Royal Albert Hall on June 5th. The second, less than three weeks later, was Jeff Lynne's ELO for their one night only appearance at Wembley Stadium. Both of these performances were superlative in ways I will elaborate on but, sadly, both of these all time great musicians have been on the receiving end of criticism they do not deserve.
Phil Collins was always the victim of his own unbelievable success but he is suddenly (largely) fashionable thanks to the likes of Pharrell and Kanye lauding him - and quite rightly so. Thus, he has decided to tour, having fallen in love with music all over again, something we should be very grateful for. There has been many an imbecile on social media commenting that his health problems are "sad" and he shouldn't have gone back out on the road again but I couldn't disagree more. Yes, he was a monster drummer, one of the best of all time, and it would be great to see him play again. It's also true that he sits down throughout the majority of the concert and struggles to walk. Nonetheless, Collins' live show in 2017 is nothing short of a gargantuan feast of pop, rock and soul music.
His vocals, vulnerable and full of feeling, do ample justice to the ballads, such as "Against All Odds" and "Can't Turn Back The Years" that are even more emotional given his ageing. They also soar during the joyous finale of almost Earth, Wind and Fire-esque renditions of "Sussudio" and "Dance Into The Light". On top of this his band are sensational: longtime collaborator and guitarist, Daryl Streamer, a virtuoso as always, whist the similarly loyal Leland Sklar is not only in all likelihood the best bassist in the world - he also has the best beard in all of rock n' roll. To cap it all off is Collins' 16 year old son, Nicolas, on drums, who sounds like a seasoned pro.
If the detractors of the Collins comeback are bad, worse still is Ed Potton's attention seeking 2 star review of ELO at Wembley for The Times. In it, he focuses on coming up with one-liners without giving due praise to Lynne for what he even admits was brilliantly delivered music or the crowd's euphoric reaction to it. He says Lynne has the stage presence of a "quantity surveyor" and repeatedly bemoans the fact "the only parts of Jeff Lynne's body that appeared to be moving were his mouth and hands".
In fact, during the fast numbers, even the more obscure ones such as "Twighlight" and "Do Ya!", there was barely a single person sitting still and not dancing, whilst the ballads saw mass singalongs and a quite spectacular display from the crowd of lighters and phones being waved, especially on "Can't Get It Out of My Head". So why does it matter if Lynne hadn't been to enough tango classes ahead of his UK tour?
I'm not quite sure what Mr Potton was expecting but, when I bought tickets to ELO, I wanted to hear those grandiose melodies, epic strings and intricate harmonies delivered live by a full band, who could make a mistake at any time. I came to see musicianship and, like the crowd, I found what was on display to be a word class example of it and quite thrilling. I had no desire to see Jeff Lynne "shake his booty" or moonwalk.
I am more than aware that a lot of modern pop concerts rely on recorded backing tracks and choreography but that, to me, does not give anyone the right to take aim at Lynne for being "a shaggy-haired statue in black". He is actually a genius and I would not say you are "better off spending the money on a nice bottle of wine and listening to the records at home" than going to see him and his ELO live. I would instead advise, if Mr Potton requires choreography or sex appeal to enjoy ELO music, that he hire himself a pole dancer to gyrate on him whilst he plays "Shine A Little Love" at home and to leave us in peace to attend more of these excellent gigs.