Sunday, 10 January 2010

Oor, February 1977: ABBA: “We’re a simple four letter word”

Review of ABBA’s Dutch concert on their 1977 tour, taking place at the Jaap Eden Hall in Amsterdam on February 4, 1977.
When I asked my twelve-year-old niece after the ABBA-concert if she had enjoyed herself, I got a beaming face with two thumbs up and full of enthusiasm she spoke the word ‘sublime’. During the ABBA-happening, I had already noticed that her acquaintance with the phenomenon pop concert suited her more than perfect.
Just like a big part of the rest of the audience, she sang along to all the lyrics at the top of her voice during practically the entire concert, remarkably familiar with the repertoire and lyrics. Meanwhile, she held on tight to the tour programme and badge that I had bought her for the outrageous price of ten Dutch guilders from a ‘Money, Money, Money’ singing Swede.

But let’s get down to business. During the ABBA-concert, there was an exuberant atmosphere in the, filled to capacity, Jaap Eden hall that I associated almost automatically with the atmosphere at a European Cup sports game. Lukewarm croquettes, wherein the meat is hard to find, one Dutch guilder a piece. First Aid and Safety people. ‘Comedians’ who are blowing up condoms or crushing plastic cups under their aggressive feet. Chocolate ice cream with nuts, one Dutch guilder and fifty cents a piece. ‘Money, Money, Money, always funny...’

Remarkable as well was the extremely mixed range of the audience, which varied in age between six and sixty. Boys from around fifteen years old and disabled people were best represented.
To this audience, a show of more than hundred minutes, interconnected by a solid professionalism, was dished up at a surprisingly high pace, that probably fulfilled all expectations of the average ABBA-fan. After the lights had been dimmed, accompanied by loud cheers and chanted hysterical exclamations (AB...BAH... AB...BAH...AB...BAH), the sounds of a descending helicopter filled the hall, referring to the image on the sleeve of the album ‘Arrival’. After ABBA’s rather overwhelming landing, it didn’t take long to become clear that the group can hardly be criticised for musical default on their live performance, although they don’t succeed at matching the ‘wall of sound’ from the studio. From an instrumental point of view, the live sound of the Swedish company, expanded with two drummers, a couple of guitarists, a keyboard player and a backing choir of seven boys and girls, dressed in snow-white judo outfits, is solid. The only ones who dropped a stitch here and there on a musical (or rather: vocal) level were the two singers Agnetha and Anni-Frid, who illustrated, especially in the intro of ‘I Do, I Do, I Do’ and ‘Money, Money, Money’, that they were lacking some freedom of movement and persuasiveness in their voices, especially in the lower regions, outside the recording studio with its technical trickeries.

From a visual point of view, ABBA’s show, spiced up with crafty light effects and slides, revolves around these housewives, dressed in skin-tight outfits (Omo-white!). Sex plays an important part, although they stay on the safe side in the visually very appealing presentation. As soon as the members of ABBA turned to the somewhat tame audience with the spoken word, corniness had no limits. At these rather rare occasions, I was happy when they continued churning out their hit medley in which all commercial highlights were represented. With reasonable intermissions, the unpretentious hit medley was alternated with less familiar but more pretentious pop songs that could immediately be ranked below the usual jukebox and TopPop favourites, primarily due to infantile-flavoured chunks of lyrics. That’s how Benny Andersson’s showpiece on the keyboards, in the style of Rick Wakeman, could hardly keep me interested, let alone convince me. After hearing ABBA’s reggae-escapade, I immediately booked a trip to Jamaica to be able to hear how it should be done, and when it comes to lyrical stupidity, absolutely everything was topped by the acoustic song ‘ABBA’, sung by the four of them, with chunks of lyrics like ‘I am Benny AT LAST’ and ‘We are a simple four lettered word’ (referring to the name of the company).
Other things that weren’t much to smile about were a technical joke, executed with the help of a tape recorder, whereby the voices of the ABBA-members were speeded up and slowed down and the annoying way wherein the blonde Agnetha was dry humping her husband on stage. Do it in your own time!

Without any doubt, the artistic highlight of the show was the 25-minute-long mini rock opera ‘The Girl With The Golden Hair’ (thanks to the commercial for Sunsilk Shampoo!) wherein both the composing and the performing members of ABBA illustrated convincingly that they have more up their sleeve than solid and commercial instant pop. During the, visually exquisitely staged, epic story, we get to know a girl who is paving her way to the absolute top of show business in an ambitious way. With all the side effects, smelling of deterioration, that go with it. Since the attractive songs in this mini epic were structured more broadly from a compositional point of view than the usual ABBA-work and therefore allowed the ladies Agnetha and Anni-Frid to shine more resonantly than usual with their voices in a dramatic way, ABBA’s mini rock opera did appeal to me and we can only hope for the critically-minded pop admirer that ABBA will commit this ambitious epic to tape at some point in the future.

My conclusion about the ABBA-concert is simple: the Swedish group offered instant music and entertainment for the entire family. There will be very little groups in pop music that will be able to rival ABBA in that area.


paparatka said...

Fantastic archive!
I guess I have a lot of reading to make up for, so I hope to be a reguler guest here.
Greeting from a Polish ABBA fan. :)

Michel said...

Thanks! Enjoy your visits. :)

Neta said...

Dry humping?? That is epically hilarious!

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