x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Björn Again demonstrates their heart of pop

Björn Again's concert at Adnec on Friday was more than entertainment, it was a history lesson in pop music.

Björn Again.
Björn Again.

Let's be honest here: when one thinks of concerts, Adnec does not exactly spring to mind as a first choice.

More suited to hosting respectable expos about serious topics such as education and next week's Middle East Chemical Week (that should make a great T-shirt), one wondered whether the venue would overshadow the sequenced energy and disco-lights of a concert by the ABBA tribute band Björn Again.

Judging by the 3,500 punters who danced and sang their way through a joyous 90-minute set, the answer was a resounding "ya".

In a way, one understands why Björn Again remain popular more than 20 years into their career. Despite ABBA retiring in 1982, the group's music continues to remain in the public consciousness through musicals and films either inspired or written by band members as well as the travelling exhibition, ABBA World, showcasing rare band memorabilia.

Ultimately, however, it all comes down to their classic pop nuggets, whose traces can be heard in many of today's top hits, ranging from pop and folk to dance. ABBA's songs have always been deceptively simple. But the sugary melodies mask dynamic songwriting freely pillaging from classic rock, soul and Motown and delivered in pitch-perfect four-part harmonies. The ability to reproduce this underrated quality allows Björn Again to stand out from the hundreds of ABBA cover bands.

Yes, they speak in fake "Sveedish" accents with campy names and costumes - the pianist and guitarist Benny Anderwear and Bjorn "Volvo-us" dress in almost karate costumes while Agnetha Falstart's and Frida Longstokin's attire resembles tennis uniforms. Still, they play and sing like seasoned pros.

Friday night, the boys came out first and immediately launched into the Eurovision-winning Waterloo. A few seconds later, the girls arrived, and by the end of the first verse, they had the crowd in the palms of their hands.

While Waterloo was sung with gleeful abandon, it was the follow-ups Gimme Gimme Gimme and Supertrooper where one appreciated the group's pedigree. The girls' harmonies were pitch perfect; no mean feat when executed with energetic dance moves consisting of the iconic finger-points, spins, back-to-back stances and hip gyrations. Benny and Björn, backed by a drummer, managed to create a dense wall of sound with the former pounding the keys like a metal-head in So Long, while the latter gave Ring Ring an extra kick with souped-up riffs.

By attending the show with a friend who was totally ignorant of ABBA, I was able to really appreciate the lasting effects of the group on the pop landscape. When the signature piano riff of Gimme Gimme Gimme rang out, my friend realised where Madonna's influence came from. With the sweet rendition of Honey Honey, he thankfully acknowledged the original version was, in fact, more akin to Motown than the horrible 2001 Eurodance version by Housecream.

Björn Again's attention to ABBA can also be found in their mannerisms on stage. Like the original, Frida was more open with the audience and delighted them with a sly sense of humour, while Agnetha was more shy and fragile.

Both the boys served as jokers, prancing around on stage and at one stage even talking to each other with fake telephones.

While the group's focus on ABBA's biggest hits kept the crowd singing along, it would have been more fulfilling if they ventured out of the ABBA Gold tracklist and explored other great and less popular songs such as the folky When I Kissed the Teacher or the funky My Mamma Said. But these are mere trifles in a show that was as much celebratory as nostalgic. The group finished aptly with Dancing Queen and Thank You for the Music, songs showcasing the fun and heartfelt nature of ABBA's songs.

Throughout the years, ABBA - with former members now in their 60s - have rebuffed multimillion-dollar deals to perform.

One understands their reluctance. Who needs to get on stage again when a younger batch of performers are doing a great job of waving the flag and playing in more countries than the original group ever did?

And with the Nintendo Wii game ABBA: You Can Dance - where your best ABBA moves give you high points - to be released next month, the group's legacy is in no danger of disappearing anytime soon.