This review contains major spoilers for the Abba Voyage live show.
If ABBA had ever accepted the rumored $1 billion offer to reform for a reunion tour a few years ago, the anticipation of seeing Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid back on stage for the first time in forty years would have been at least. decisive point.
Walking into the purpose-built multi-million pound ABBA Arena in east London for the first night of the ABBA Voyage show, there’s a heightened sense of anticipation, but it’s mixed with an overwhelming sense of ‘what the hell am I doing? to experience?’
Shrouded in secrecy, despite months of hype and tantalizing teasers, the band’s Björn and Benny repeatedly stated that it was definitely not going to be one of those posthumous hologram shows for the likes of Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra.
They also had trouble really explaining what the difference would be, other than instead of being holograms, each member of the group would act as digital avatars (or ABBAtars, as they’re known), which sounded a lot like…holograms.
After seeing the first performance of the show, I can see why Björn and Benny had a hard time explaining it. I can also understand why they kept their cards so close to their chest.
It is very simple, impressive.
“We are playing tricks on people’s minds and they are willing to leave us,” Björn said before the show’s premiere.
“During the time that the fans are in the arena, they believe that we are real and we are on stage. They are at a concert with ABBA.”
From the moment we first catch a glimpse of the group, taking to the stage as reimagined 21st-century pop stars, it’s abundantly clear that this is definitely not a hologram show.
When the four ABBAtars arrive on stage, we are all instantly transported into a universe where the real and digital worlds collide. The entire arena is wrapped in bands of light and sound. If the acoustics weren’t so impressive, I swear I would have heard 3,000 mandibles hitting the ground simultaneously.
And just as I was putting my jaw back in place, it was off again as I realized that the opening song is not one of the group’s mega-hits, but rather the title track, and a firm fan favourite, from his 1981 studio album, The Visitors.
“I’ve been waiting for these visitors,” Anni-Frid sings.
Not half of what the adoring crowd has been waiting for them.
It then moves on to another deep cut, Hole In Your Soul, a nod to the group’s final tour in 1979, when it 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 hair and wardrobe courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana, Manish Arora, Erevos Aether and Michael Schmidt.
Does Your Mother Know sees Björn have his solo moment, but after one verse he disappears to give the (real-life) backing vocalists and excellent live band their moment in the sun.
Speaking of which, Chiquitita is presented in front of a giant eclipsing sun, at the perfect moment to completely disappear when the song ends. The crowd goes crazy.
If I had to criticize where some of the 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 the latter felt like a missed opportunity, especially after they had just donned those futuristic Tron-like outfits seen in promo photos to perform an explosive version of Lay All Your Love. On Me, choreographed by award-winning Wayne McGregor.
Maybe the ABBAtars needed to catch their breath? Some of the audience certainly needed to cool off, as many opted to head to the bar at this point.
Unnecessary animation aside, there were some genuinely warm and funny moments between numbers when the band ‘interacted’ with the crowd. At one point, Benny started playing the opening notes of the EastEnders theme (yes, really), which is when I really thought he’d entered a parallel universe. He certainly felt that way in the arena.
Like the (super) soldiers they are, they saved the best for last.
There wasn’t a single bum in the seat, including those belonging to Kylie Minogue, Kate Moss, Keira Knightley and the King and Queen of Sweden who were in the audience, for the Waterloo finale, Dancing Queen, The Winner Takes It All. and thanks for the music. 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 she zoomed out with an overwhelming feeling of ‘what the hell did I just witness?’
The future, that is.
ABBA Voyage is now booking through May 28, 2023 with more dates to be released soon. For information on moiré, visit abbavoyage.com.