ABBA’s four members made their first public appearance in 14 years when they attended the London premiere of their ‘ABBA Voyage’ show. For the opening night of the gig, which incorporates digital versions of the band, Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Bjorn reunited.
Benny rose up and clapped along to Dancing Queen as Frida watched the show with a broad grin on her face. The audience erupted in applause as they took a curtain call at the end.
On the red carpet, singer Agnetha Faltskog told the BBC that ABBA has never left them, in her heart. She added that it wasn’t a difficult decision to reunite because music is a big part of who they are. Anni-Frid Lyngstad remarked that she dreamed of this for years.
Kylie Minogue, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Jarvis Cocker and Keira Knightley were among the celebrities who attended the opening event. The audience also included Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and his wife Silvia, implying that there was a real-life Dancing Queen in attendance.
The show, which has been in the works since 2016, used cutting-edge modern technology to recreate ABBA in their prime in the 1970s, performing hits including ‘SOS’, ‘Voulez-Vous’ and ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’. The band spent five weeks in motion capture suits, with 160 cameras analysing their body motions and facial expressions, to produce the show.
Hundreds of animators and visual effects artists used these as reference points to create avatars of the band during their peak.
The characters, dubbed “Abba-tars,” are not 3D holograms, as everyone engaged in the production is quick to point out. The characters appear on a 65-million-pixel screen, with lights and other effects blurring the line between the digital and “real world” aspects in the arena.
Producer Svana Gisla told the BBC that they wanted to tug at the emotions. Amazingly, they’ve managed to pull it off. Although the visuals are 2D, outstanding lighting effects and rear projections create a vital depth of field, giving the impression that the band is in the room with you. As the show begins, the quartet emerges from beneath the stage on risers, before blasting into ‘The Visitors’, an eerie electric psychodrama title track from their penultimate album, released in 1981.
Despite the fact that the band members were in their 70s when the motion capture footage was shot, resident choreographer Wayne McGregor of the Royal Ballet assisted them in recreating the movement of their younger selves.
The home-made dance routines of Agnetha and Frida, which could be charitably described as “extravagant walking,” are instantly recognisable and deeply nostalgic.
You’ll feel like you’ve been taken back in time to the band’s last UK concert, 42 years ago, in London’s Wembley Arena, if you keep your eyes away from the huge screens, where the avatars have an unpleasant “uncanny valley” effect.
A precision-drilled 10-piece live band adds to the music, racing through a varied list of ABBA songs that includes favourites like ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Thank You For The Music’, as well as surprising deep cuts like ‘Eagle’ and the tender ‘When All Is Said And Done’.
‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ and ‘I Still Have Faith In You’, two new songs released last year, fit perfectly into the setlist, while footage of the band winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 prompts an audible “aaaahh” from the audience during Waterloo.
The concert, which takes place in an east London purpose-built arena, is scheduled to run until December 2022. The venue can then be packed into a flat-pack and carried on the road in true Swedish style.
It’s the ideal solution for a band who swore they’d never tour again after disbanding in 1982, even declining a $1 billion offer to play 100 shows at the turn of the Millennium.