“People everywhere, a sense of expectation hanging in the air”
WARNING: this post contains major spoilers about ABBA Voyage, including the full set list.
As any reader of this blog would be aware. ABBA’s spectacular Voyage concert opened at the purpose-built ABBA Arena in London on Thursday 26 May to critical acclaim, fan rapture, and near universal five star reviews. And it brought ABBA together on the red carpet, and later for a brief appearance on stage.
I had intended to write this blog the day after the premiere, but between being overwhelmed by what I’d just seen, an extremely busy two weeks in the UK, and seeing the show several times from different viewpoints, it has taken till now to get it together.
ABBA Voyage defies description. It’s not a concert but it is. It’s not a sound and light experience yet it is. It’s definitely not old-style holograms.
The avatars are seen on a screen that wraps around almost half of the arena. The illusion is amazing – the avatars look, move, and feel like the real ABBA. They interact with each other and also the audience with some pre-recorded dialogue. Most often they are portrayed life size, sometimes also projected in larger-than-life close-ups, just like any modern concert.
At times there are larger scale projections, which doesn’t actually detract from the conceit that the avatars are real. The entire arena is filled with lighting and sounds enveloping the entire space, not just focused on the stage. The arena is rarely fully dark, and seeing the rest of the audience becomes part of the experience.
The set list is a surprise, with several album tracks mixed in among the expected big ABBA hits. As announced last September, the first two new ABBA songs recorded in 2017, I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down, are a highlight.
Vocals are from ABBA’s original studio recordings, remixed at times. A few songs appear to feature live vocals from the 1977 and 1979 concerts (discussion is still ongoing in fan forums on exactly what vocals may be live). A major shock is the inclusion of the previously unreleased fourth verse of When All Is Said And Done. Another surprise is a choir that joins in at the end of The Winner Takes It All, which sings new lyrics to the backing vocal melody.
Music is provided by a ten piece band on stage, which gets its own feature spot during the show. Though personally while I think it is worthy to introduce the band to the audience, I feel this goes on half a song too long.
I was lucky enough to see the show a total of six times from different locations in the arena, including opening night on May 26th and the first performance on the 27th. A couple of personal highlights: seeing Agnetha clapping along during Chiquitita, and watching the King and Queen of Sweden, plus their security and military escorts, up and dancing during Dancing Queen.
There really are no bad views, though if I were to suggest best locations it would be either dance floor, towards the centre but about halfway back from the stage, or the centre block of seats. What I found to be the worst spot was front and centre on the dance floor. Way too close, the avatars almost lose that sense of reality, while it’s impossible to see anything else in the arena without turning.
Once the show has bedded in and proven to be a long-running hit, there is no reason that ABBA Voyage could not spread to other parts of the world. I think it would be the ideal show for Las Vegas, where artist residencies have been big for over a decade, and The Beatles Love with Cirque du Soleil (a spiritually similar show to Voyage) has been playing since 2006.
Hopefully some time in the near future the ABBA Voyage will be released on audio formats, so listeners around the world can experience the brilliant new arrangements of the songs.
ABBA Voyage is amazing, brilliant, beguiling, astounding.
Tickets are now on sale to the end of May 2023 at abbavoyage.com
ABBA Voyage setlist:
Intro: Skallgång (from Benny Andersson’s album November 1989)
1. The Visitors (from The Visitors 1981)
2. Hole In Your Soul (from ABBA – The Album 1977)
Benny speaks about being back on stage after 40 years, “to be or not to be?”
Interlude: Eastenders theme tune
3. SOS (single 1975, from ABBA 1975)
4. Knowing Me, Knowing You (single 1977, from Arrival 1976)
5. Chiquitita (single 1979, from Voulez-Vous 1979)
Frida speaks about her upbringing, dedicates the next song to her grandmother and strong women everywhere
6. Fernando (single 1976)
Benny speaks in the darkness as the avatars change costume
7. Mamma Mia (single 1975, from ABBA 1975)
Björn speaks about the band
8. Does Your Mother Know [performed by the live band] (single 1979, from Voulez-Vous 1979)
9. Eagle (single 1978, from ABBA – The Album 1977)
10. Lay All Your Love On Me (limited single 1982, from Super Trouper 1981)
11. Summer Night City (single 1978)
12. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) (single 1979, from Greatest Hits Vol. 2 1979)
13. Voulez-Vous (single 1979, from Voulez-Vous 1979)
14. When All Is Said And Done (limited single 1981/82, from The Visitors 1981)
Agnetha speaks about being back in this new form
15. Don’t Shut Me Down (single 2021, from Voyage 2021)
16. I Still Have Faith In You (single 2021, from Voyage 2021)
All four speak about winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974
17. Waterloo (single 1974, from Waterloo 1974)
18. Thank You For The Music (from ABBA – The Album 1977)
19. Dancing Queen (single 1976, from Arrival 1976)
20. The Winner Takes It All (single 1980, from Super Trouper 1980)
Outro: I Wonder (Departure) [instrumental] (from ABBA – The Album 1977)