This review contains major spoilers for the Abba Voyage live show.
If ABBA had ever accepted the rumoured offer of $1billion to reform for a reunion tour a few years back, the anticipation of seeing Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid back on stage for the first time in forty years would’ve been at fever pitch.
Walking into the multi-million pound, purpose-built ABBA Arena in East London for the very first night of the ABBA Voyage show, there is that heightened sense of anticipation, but it’s laced with an overwhelming feeling of ’what the hell am I about to experience?’
Shrouded in secrecy, despite months of hype and tantalising teasers, the band’s Björn and Benny repeatedly stated that it was definitely not going to be one of those posthumous hologram shows put on for the likes of Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra.
They also struggled to truly explain what the difference would be, other than that instead of being holograms, each member of the group would be performing as digital avatars (or ABBAtars as they have become known), which sounded a lot like… holograms.
After witnessing the first ever performance of the show, I can see why Björn and Benny struggled to explain it. I can also understand why they kept their cards so close to their chest.
It is quite simply, awe-inspiring.
“We’re playing tricks with people’s minds and they’re willing to let us,” Björn said ahead of the show’s premiere.
“For the time fans are in the arena, they believe we are real and are on stage. They’re at a concert with ABBA.”
He’s not wrong.
From the moment we get our first glimpse of the group - rising onto the stage as reimagined 21st century pop stars - it’s abundantly clear that this is definitely not a hologram show.
We are all instantly transported into a universe where the real and digital worlds collide. The entire arena is wrapped in swathes of light and sound. If the acoustics weren’t so impressive, I swear I would have heard 3000 jaws simultaneously hit the floor.
And just as I was popping my jaw back into place, it’s gone again at the realisation that the opening song is not one of the group’s mega-hits but the title track - and firm fan favourite - from their 1981 studio album, The Visitors.
“I have been waiting for these visitors,” Anni-Frid sings.
Not half as much as the adoring crowd have been waiting for them.
Then it’s into another deep cut, Hole In Your Soul, a nod to the group’s final tour in 1979, when it was last performed. That was ‘peak ABBA’, which is why the versions of the band we see on stage tonight are based on that era, albeit with 21st century hairstyles and wardrobes courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana, Manish Arora, Erevos Aether and Michael Schmidt.
Does Your Mother Know sees Björn get his solo moment, but after one verse he disappears to give the (real life) backing singers and excellent live band their moment in the sun.
Speaking of which, Chiquitita is performed in front of a giant eclipsing sun, perfectly timed to fully disappear as the song ends. The crowd go nuts.
If I had to nitpick at where some momentum is lost it would be the two songs that didn’t feature the ABBAtars. Instead, Eagle and Voulez-Vous were accompanied by an animated story.
Maybe I was missing something, but not having them perform these songs felt like a missed opportunity, especially after they’d just donned those futuristic Tron-like outfits seen in the promo pics to perform an explosive version of Lay All Your Love On Me, complete with choreography by the award-winning Wayne McGregor.
Did the ABBAtars need to catch their breath? Some of the audience certainly needed to freshen up as many opted to head to the bar at this point.
Unnecessary animation aside, there were some genuinely warm and humorous moments in between numbers when the band ‘interacted’ with the crowd. At one point Benny started playing the opening notes of the EastEnders theme tune (yes, really), which is when I genuinely thought I’d entered a parallel universe. It certainly felt that way in the arena.
Like the (super) troopers that they are, they saved the best to last .
There wasn’t a single bum on seat - including those belonging to Kylie Minogue, Kate Moss, Keira Knightley and the King and Queen of Sweden who were all in the audience - for the finale of Waterloo, Dancing Queen and The Winner Takes It All. At this point, the emotional connection between the group and the audience was palpable.
I walked into that arena thinking ‘what the hell am I about to experience?’ and walked out buzzing with an overwhelming sense of ‘what the hell have I just witnessed?’
The future, that’s what.
ABBA Voyage set list:
- The Visitors
- Hole in Your Soul
- Knowing Me, Knowing You
- Mamma Mia
- Does Your Mother Know
- Lay All Your Love on Me
- Summer Night City
- When All is Said and Done
- Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
- Thank You For the Music
- Don’t Shut Me Down
- I Still Have Faith in You
- Dancing Queen
- The Winner Takes it All
ABBA Voyage is now booking until 28 May 2023 with more dates to be released soon. For more information go to abbavoyage.com.