The powerful association of music and memory has rarely been louder and more apparent than at the Rod Laver tonight. The mostly female, mostly 30+ audience exhibit a passion rarely seen at smaller gigs and it’s a big night out for a lot of the crowd.
Before the band take to the stage we’re blasted with advertisements for upcoming Rod Laver shows and AM radio classics which only accentuates the fever pitch of nostalgia we’ve worked ourselves into. A brief blackness is followed by a burst of UV light and everyone stands amidst deafening cheers as the five-piece backing band, then Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle march on stage, wave and blast into the opening chords of ‘Dressed For Success’. Unsurprisingly, the crowd go nuts.
The duo dresses as if it was still 1990, and the sound has similarly changed little over time. Fredriksson is small and skinny in her tight black leather jeans, white jacket and iridescent bleached hair. Her voice is gritty, thin and impassioned; she looks like the survivor she is. Leaving the theatrics to Gessle and guitarist Christoffer Lundqvist, who strut across the front of the stage, hacking at their axes and cheering on the crowd, Frediksson’s voice is as powerful as ever and her appearance is magnetic despite seeming tired and a little lost.
As the band move into ‘Sleeping in My Car’ and ‘The Big L’ several things become apparent; Gessle is a seriously underrated writers of choruses and pop hooks, even if their lyrical content is questionable at times (You’re hiding under a halo, your mouth is alive / Get out of my way! Get out of my sight! / I’m not attracted to go-go deeper tonight anyone?), secondly, guitar solos! Every song has at least one and they’re great fun; can’t think of the last big hit that had the confidence to let a guitar sing for more than 16 bars. And finally, isn’t memory a strange thing? Though many people are big enough fans to shell out $50 for a t-shirt, $20 for a program and/or Roxette beach ball, it’s a fair bet that most tickets are sold to people wanting to hear four or five songs, and yet it’s the lesser hits that trigger the bigger responses.
“It’s been a while since our last show here,” smiles Gessle to loud cheers. “Last time we were here was January 1995. We’ll play some songs from our newest album Charm School,” the cheering subsides. He pauses. “Just a few, but mainly tonight it will be your Roxette favourites,’ we all cheer again. The audience sit impassively for the newer songs, though latest single ‘She’s Got Nothing On But the Radio’ gets a clap-along happening. It’s a great tune and had it been released anytime before 2000 it would have been a hit, nowadays only Eastern and Central Europe likes this brand of sugary rock.
Songs are deployed with expert precision, just as they were written; the power ballads (‘It Must Have Been Love’, ‘Perfect Day’ ‘Listen To Your Heart’), and the crowd-rousing rockers (‘Dangerous’, ‘How Do you Do’, ‘Crash Boom Bang’ and the it’s-so-good-we-have-to-save-it-for-the-encore obviousness of ‘The Look’). Every hit gets a big rock ending, every ballad sees several hundred lighters aloft and we love every moment of this strange, sparkly trip back to the 90s.
– Andy Hazel