On July 9th, I found myself travelling through time. Usually travelling through time involves either travelling into the past or into the future. Never both at the same time. Or so I thought, until I stepped foot into the ABBA Arena.
The clock struck 7:45pm. Like at a real concert, the four so-called “ABBAtars” entered from below the stage, and there I was: simultaneously both in the 1970s and in a distant future where musicians performed to a crowd of people without actually being present themselves.
As the concert’s opener, The Visitors immediately immersed the audience with its electronic tunes, the 291 speakers within the auditorium really working their wonder.
Sat beside us was an elderly man who confidently sang along with his idols. In the standing area, which was cleverly dubbed the “Dance Floor,” people swayed and enjoyed themselves. As I listened and sang, I began taking in all the magic of the moment.
By the time Chiquitita started to play, everyone was comfortable enough to join in to sing and dance. Even those that had seats stood up. The ten-piece live orchestra situated on the stage next to the ABBAtars fleshed the band out with their impeccable and dynamic vocals.
We threw our arms in the air and moved side to side, the dazzling light and effects leaving me starstruck.
It all felt too real.
All four of the Swedish pop band danced across the stage, flipped their hair, smiled (with fantastic dentistry, might I add), laughed and made banter with the audience similar to any regular concert. There were times when I forgot that Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny were 3D portrayals of themselves, created via the granular CGI of Industrial Light & Magic.
Fernando then followed, and the musicians sang against a cinematic lunar eclipse. The song gave the audience a chance to slow down a little before the famous Mamma Mia played. It’s safe to say that this was when everyone truly let loose and went wild.
When I looked around the arena, which holds 3,000 people, not a single person was sitting. From 60-somethings to young disco-loving adults, the fans (and security!) danced with a passion equivalent to a ritualistic purification.
That was one of my favourite parts of the concert: it didn’t matter what gender you were or how old you were, singing and dancing along to ABBA and wearing ABBA shirts or 70s-inspired outfits were all very much praised. These outfits made the experience all the more atmospheric.
In the middle of the set played Eagle. Uniquely executed, this song featured as an animated video during a “costume change” break for the musicians, another familiar aspect of ordinary concerts which added to the realness of the gig.
Dressed in Tron-styled outfits, the ABBAtars came back. It was now time for Lay All Your Love on Me, closely followed by Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! and Voulez-Vous, also performed through an animated video.
At this point, the amount of effort put into this show was undeniable. Hundreds of hours were spent on each band member being recorded by 120 motion capture cameras to capture them from multiple angles. Around 1,000 visual effects artists also worked on digitising the four of them.
The special effects involved in this show were simply incredible. They were not only mesmerising, but they fully enveloped you in the show. Lights travelled from the stage all around the audience, shining a spotlight on you for a short while as you danced and had fun.
After every song, I wondered whether they could outdo the special effects I just witnessed. Somehow, they always did. One of my favourite special effects was when ABBA sang Summer Night City. The background looked very disco-themed, with pyramids dazzling both in the back and on stage, and Saturn’s spinning rings. It was a very lively, colourful visual!
Integrating the digital with the physical is no easy feat. By the time we were nearing the end of the concert, one appreciated all the technology involved even more than they did before the concert.
Thank You for the Music involved another video, this time of the band’s last live performance of the song. I don’t know if it was the incredible video quality or the strong sense of reminiscence – maybe both – but I started feeling a little emotional. It was a moving touch to add such a lovely tribute to the band’s past.
Tears were quickly wiped away for the concert’s second-to-last song, Dancing Queen. For the last time that night, we showed off our best moves as we let the music guide us and our bodies.
For the encore, Agnetha led Winner Takes It All, once again evoking a sentimental reaction from the audience. Especially so when the de-aged ABBAtars faded away and we were welcomed by ABBAtars that resemble the band members now.
One of the things the show does best, besides providing an epic emotional rollercoaster, is creating unity between the audience and the band. The event felt very private and intimate. Because there were only 3,000 people in the auditorium, it felt more like a big club dedicated to ABBA than a concert arena.
ABBA Voyage was described as “a concert like no other,” but before I attended this concert, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed, but would I be satisfied? Even as a life-long ABBA fan I couldn’t help but wonder how ABBA would pull this off.
But they did. They definitely did.
Featured Image Credit: Julia Benko