The beloved band make their virtual presence felt with the help of some unbelievable visuals
There’s been a great deal of mystery surrounding ABBA’s virtual residence at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Whilst the groundbreaking technology that brings younger versions of ABBA to life in the purpose-built arena has been much discussed, no information has escaped about the set list, the visuals, or virtually anything relating to the content of the show. Even once fans get inside the venue there’s an air of secrecy, and attendees are encouraged not to give too much away on social media. Unusual enough for a concert, but then everything about walking into the ABBA Arena feels surreal, futuristic, and hardly like attending your average gig at all.
It’s the popcorn stand just inside the lobby that first tips you off: ABBA Voyage is one-part concert, one-part cinematic event. More than a new album outing and more than a greatest hits Vegas-esque spectacle, the show celebrates the full length of ABBA’s careers, from their Eurovision debut to their return to the recording studio after forty years. Juggling a vast back catalogue with their newest body of work, it manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic, both intimate and ambitious. It’s a near impossible task to build a setlist for ABBA that won’t see some fans disappointed, but organisers and the band have made a solid effort here, balancing new material with plenty of famous crowd-pleasers.
It’s during these older hits that it becomes especially difficult to remember that the band aren’t physically present. Short monologues between certain tracks from each of the band’s members help to bridge the divide and make the digital avatars seem unbelievably close to their human counterparts. The technology is enormously impressive in every aspect, with lighting and visuals that extend far beyond the stage – there’s a sense of total immersion, and moments of real beauty (just wait for ‘Chiquitita’). And whilst everything that you hear from ABBA themselves is prerecorded, the live band and supporting vocalists help things to remain fresh and immediate.
That’s the whole point of ABBA Voyage after all – to take an impossible live experience and bring it as close to reality as possible. Blown up on the big screens, it’s not too difficult to tell that the avatars aren’t really ABBA in the flesh, entertaining as they are. But when the audience is focused on the human-sized figures dancing and singing over the stage, reaching out to each other to share a moment and gesturing gratefully to the audience, things become more complicated. By the time the quartet bursts into universal favourite ‘Dancing Queen’ they have an entire arena on its feet. In every way that counts, ABBA are in the room.