“We have a problem. We are a dance band, and the people need room to dance” was how Benny Andersson began the Benny Anderssons Orkester performance at Stockholm’s Skansen.
Clearly, he was referring to the large number of people who had rushed to the very front of the stage as soon as they were able. In the midst, I’m sure, there were a bunch of ABBA fans who were there to see the former ABBA-member still performing on stage, aged 65. Meanwhile, I was standing in the nearby queue to get a beer. Boy were the queues lengthy.
Once the dance floor was cleared, it was quickly filled by lots of middle-aged and older Swedes who love to waltz, to polka, and to do some of the traditional Swedish dances. As I watched them, I couldn’t help but think of the scene from “The Sound Of Music” where they perform “The Linden”. Lots of the more traditional dances appeared to have lots of skips and slides, and I was taken back to my high school years where it was compulsory, for a while, for us to learn how to dance. I’m not sure if that still happens?The first half of the show was made up of lots of short dance pieces, some of them fast in tempo, others slower, before ending with an ABBA song, “Kisses Of Fire” from “Voulez Vous”. I didn’t know this at the time until a fellow ABBA-fan mentioned later in the night, this was a song never performed live by ABBA, even though it was very much in the height of their popularity, and out in time for the US/Europe tour of 1979. I loved the way Helen introduced this by talking about growing up as a teenager and listening to ABBA and Grease and getting the words wrong. In short, I liked the first half very much, but not as much as the second.
The second half of the show seemed to go into greater musical depth. In addition to the waltzes and polkas, there were a couple of wonderful pieces which stick in my mind: a strong, bluesy version of “Cadillac” a song by Benny’s first band, “The Hep Stars”, and another almost melancholic piece which heavily featured the saxophone. There was also a fantastic, lengthy instrumental piece with a virtuoso performance on the glockenspiel as its focus.
The second half also featured of a bunch of ABBA songs. The songs chosen were very much, though, in the style of a “dance band”, including “I Do, I Do, I Do” and “Hasta Manana”, both of which inspired much smooching on the dance floor. Nobody asked me to dance. The most inspired ABBA re-interpretation for for me was “Why Did It Have To Be Me” featuring the amazing vocals of Helen Sjoholm and Tommy Korberg. The song’s reprise was an alternative interpretation of the song, as featured on the ABBA song, “Happy Hawaii” (which is basically the same song, though with a slight variation).
However, I thought the greatest moment of the show, was when Benny and the core musicians of the band came right down into the audience. It was like the parting of the Red Sea as the crowd simply made room for the musicians, playing their instruments, to come right down onto the dance floor. Yes, there was a rush of ABBA fans with cameras to take photographs – luckily I was standing in the right place and so didn’t have to move – but mostly it was done calmly and smoothly.
What struck me most about the show was how hard all of the musicians worked. Most were on stage for close to four hours (including a 30 minute or so break), with some of them playing multiple instruments. By the end Tommy was showing signs of perspiration and Helen was starting to look a little tired which is understandable. Nonetheless, both Helen and Tommy, along with Benny and the other musicians seemed to really enjoy the show. They smiled, they jumped up and down, they seemed to have a great time. I was impressed.
The show was recorded by Swedish TV, SVT, so I’m guessing it will eventually turn up on screen, as a DVD, and whatever else they do these days.