If only it were acceptable to begin reviews with the brain exploding emoji. Four virtual ABBA members, or ABBAtars, performed the premiere of their Voyage concert experience in a specially built arena in east London, and looked so convincing that I was left with no idea what was real and what was not. This bears overstating: I literally could not believe my eyes.
Was that really the King and Queen of Sweden sitting behind me? Could that truly be Keira Knightley, Jarvis Cocker and Sadiq Khan elsewhere in the audience? How can I not have bumped my head and woken up in 1979, when every hair on Seventies Benny Andersson’s arm is clearly visible, every flap of Seventies Agnetha Fältskog’s sparkling flares?
I saw the hologram Whitney Houston show two years ago and it was a bit naff, with the late soul singer obviously a 2D projection on a piece of glass. This production from Industrial Light & Magic, which filmed the quartet using motion capture technology over five weeks in 2020, was galaxies ahead of anything similar.
Andersson, Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad danced across the wide stage, mingled, hugged, and teased each other about their 1974 Eurovision outfits. When they appeared in huge proportions on the big screens they had the mildest plasticine quality, but otherwise they were astonishingly real, to the extent that they even came on late and left the stage for their costume changes.
The ecstatic crowd reaction showed that people were fully immersed. It’s doubtful that many here saw ABBA when they last played in London – seven nights at Wembley Arena in 1979 – and it’s hard to believe that can have been any more joyful than this, with its light effects whizzing to the back of the 3,000-capacity room, space backdrop and a live 10-piece band that was having even more fun than the VR stars.
They did most of the hits, of course, and the best two from last year’s surprise comeback album. A few songs, including Knowing Me, Knowing You and Lay All Your Love on Me, were presented more like big screen pop videos. It was when the group were life-size that they convinced completely.
The biggest surprise came when they appeared in current 70-something form for a bow at the end. They left – holograms again! – and the quartet took to the stage for real, earning a hugely deserved ovation for an extraordinary production that really does look like the future of live music. The Rolling Stones, Elton John and anyone else who’s now less hip, more hip replacement should be queueing up for the avatar treatment. There’ll be no need to tell our grandchildren about the great bands of our youth. They could all still be on stage, forever young thanks to miraculous work like this.
ABBA Arena, to May 28, 202; ticketmaster.co.uk/abba-voyage