ABBA’s jaw-dropping virtual concert is nothing short of a modern, magical miracle
When Swedish pop supergroup ABBA first announced that they were to release a new song after 39 years, few people could have imagined, let alone dreamed, that a full album would follow. Including, perhaps, the group themselves.
So the chances of ever seeing ABBA perform in their original line-up would surely be zero – it was, after all, the elusive golden ticket, with many urban legends rumouring offers of a £1 billion for them to reform.
And yet here we are, in 2022, in the custom-built ABBA Arena near east London’s Olympic Park, where the band will play to 3,000 people a night for as long as time – and ticket sales – permits in ABBA Voyage.
They are, of course, ABBAtar versions of Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anna-Frid – that’s an avatar to you and me – but one thing they’re certainly not is holograms. You’ve seen the photos of them, as they are now, in cinema-effect outfits – they used 160 cameras used to film ABBA’s motion capture performance technique over five weeks. Industrial Light and Magic – yes, of Star Wars fame – did the ‘deaging’ and recreation of their ‘classic’ look, using 1,000 VFX experts across four global studios. There were one billion computing hours used to create the ABBA you see on stage now. The question on everyone’s lips, other than ‘what exactly is this?’ is ‘does it work?’
Oh boy, does it work.
It is, quite literally, jaw-dropping. Are they actually there? It certainly looks and feels like it. Because the magic of this show isn’t just the ABBAtars, it’s the entire production and how it’s staged to make that ‘illusion’ appear constantly real. The lighting, the screens, huge moving elements descending from the ceiling throughout – it’s ingenious.
There are, perhaps, a couple of moments where things might take a slight computer game turn – usually when looking at the giant screens – but the production has an uncanny ability to pull you right back in at that exact point, and more specifically to hold your attention on the human figures, singing, dancing and interacting front and centre.
It’s extremely clever that, despite the technology, the production follows the format of a ‘real’ gig, with moments that traditionally would be considered a quick bar or bathroom break. Don’t do this, don’t miss a single second. There are even speeches, monologues and interaction with the crowd. And, of course, costume changes. There are animated interludes with snowy forests, flying beasts and fantasy elements – again, it’s just like a ‘real’ gig, really because it is one. There’s a 10-piece live band present throughout, who even take the spotlight for “Does Your Mother Know”.
Of course, it’s also about the music – thank you for it indeed, as this isn’t just ABBA Gold on stage, this is a carefully selected blend of deep cuts and crowd pleasers. Opening with the majestic “The Visitors”, the 20 chosen numbers include six songs that have never been performed live in concert.
For “Lay All Your Love on Me”, rainbow laser beams flood the arena. “When All Is Said and Done” sees huge rotating circular screens float above the audience as the band sing to one another. “Summer Night City” sees the group crash onto the stage spectacularly, performing in a sci-fi set.
It’s taken five years to bring the show to the stage and the production values show why – aside from being time-defying (Benny does reference Doctor Who at one point) it’s a staggering technological spectacle. A modern, magical miracle that celebrates the past while at the same time changes the future of performance as we know it. You’re going to wake up in the night thinking about it. Repeat viewings are definitely recommended – and with Benny telling Variety that ILM can easily swap in new numbers in future, that sounds like a given. Quite simply incredible and the must-attend gig of the year.
THE FULL SETLIST
Hole in Your Soul
Knowing Me, Knowing You
Does Your Mother Know?
Lay All Your Love on Me
Summer Night City
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
When All Is Said and Done
Don’t Shut Me Down
I Still Have Faith in You
Thank You for the Music
The Winner Takes it All
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