Arriving at Wembley Park station on Tuesday night was fun. Wembley was host to two Sweden/England encounters: the match at the stadium, and next door, Roxette’s first UK show in 17 years. It’s no secret that I adore Roxette, and the Crash! Boom! Bang! Tour in 1994 was the first live gig I ever saw. I thought that may be the last time I would ever see my favourite group live, especially after Marie Fredriksson’s brain tumour and their long hiatus in the years proceeding, when it looked like they really were over (the one-off extras to add to various Greatest Hits packages notwithstanding). But twenty-five years after their formation, they’re back and on what might turn out to be their longest tour ever.
I’ve put the review under a cut for those of you who do not care. Although you are, respectfully, wrong.
Watching the tour’s progress via the intertubes, it seems that its success has taken Roxette by surprise – a few small test dates became a few large test dates became the tour that keeps growing. They’ve been adding gigs to it all the time (London was announced months ago, but that was still announced way after most of the tour) and they’ve just this week announced it will continue until Autumn 2012 with more UK dates in July in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow (I am so there at Manchester). Perhaps this evolution explains the lack of a glossy programme, although I missed having a glossy programme. And note to merch people: more badges and posters! Both sold out at last night’s show well before the support act Darren Hayes (who played several Savage Garden songs but not ‘I Want You’, aka the one that sounds like Roxette) came on.
The tour doesn’t even have a ‘proper’ name: I’ve seen it referred to as both ‘world tour’ and ‘Charm School tour’, but it’s not really the latter as despite some of the merchandise bearing the current album’s art work (and also that of Look Sharp! and Joyride), they’ve typically only been doing one or two songs from it at their gigs. If you get Charm School, by the way, try and get the 2CD version if it’s still available. The live CD you get in that package is so worth it – and contains Silver Blue, which would be worth the price alone.
The wonderful thing is that Marie seems to be loving it. Per’s always said that the onus was on Marie for any future Roxette work – anything they’ve done in the past ten years has been because she felt ready for it. I’ve read how devastating the tumour was for her – she was incredibly fortunate to survive- and the lasting damage it has left. Early reviews of some of the first concerts suggested her illness may have affected her too much for this tour to be a good idea, but several months in, it seems as though the reverse has been true, with her voice sounding much stronger than it did in some of the early recordings from the tour. True, it’s not quite as powerful as it once was, but the same could be said of any pop star of a similar age. They’ve tailored the set to accommodate this as well – a few more Per-heavy songs (although not as many as there were in the early days of the tour), and in some others, most notably Crash! Boom! Bang!, Per takes more of a role than he once did.
The new CBB arrangement is unexpected but rather nice, with each of them taking a lead verse. Marie’s sight (I’ve read that she is almost blind now though I don’t know how far that’s true) prevents her from moving too much about the stage in the way she used to, but she still seemed to have plenty of energy and looked well. You could only really tell her sight was bad when she had to be accompanied on and off-stage by someone. In some of the early gigs she also had a tendency to forget the words in places, and Per sweetly told us right at the start to just sing along if they forgot them, without mentioning why, but last night she only forgot them a couple of times, and not for very long. Per, the backing singers and the audience ably compensated.
Wembley was sold out and the groundswell of warmth for the group was incredible. I’ve always thought of them as my thing that a few of my friends also like a bit – but the love in that arena last night was palpable, and not just for the big hits: Perfect Day, Marie’s personal favourite, got one of the biggest receptions of all. There was just a strong sense of people being glad they finally got to see them, and that everyone was willing Marie on. It was truly lovely.
Set-wise, they packed over twenty songs in to their set (which was just under two hours). All the singles from Look Sharp! and Joyride were present as well as a few album tracks from the latter, two or three songs apiece from Tourism, Crash! Boom! Bang!, Have a Nice Day and Charm School. Representing ‘other’ things they’ve done were Opportunity Nox and It Must Have Been Love. Poor old Room Service got nothing, forever the red-headed stepchild of Roxette albums (although it’s not that bad, just not as good as the others – Real Sugar and Milk and Toast and Honey – unexpectedly, Per’s favourite Roxette song – are brilliant and well worth a download).
Pearls of Passion (their first album, originally only released in Sweden) got nothing either, but seeing as they pretended that album didn’t even exist for several years, no-one ever expects them to play stuff from it, though I would kill to hear Neverending Love live.
I was a little disappointed at the omission of Silver Blue from last night’s setlist – which would have totally made me cry had they done it, currently residing as it does at #3 on my ever-changing top ten Roxette songs ever (this week: 1. Listen to Your Heart, 2. Never is a Long Time, 3. Silver Blue, 4. The Look, 5. Dressed for Success, 6. Things Will Never Be The Same, 7. Watercolours in the Rain, 8. Here Comes the Weekend, 9. Fireworks, 10. The Voice) I would have taken that over Opportunity Nox any day (ON is an extra track on ‘The Pop Hits’, the only compilation of theirs which no-one ever bought except we die-hards, and a decent enough live track, but a bit filler-y. And if they were doing one-off tracks, why not One Wish instead?), but that’s a small gripe, especially in this day of YouTube. They played some of my favourite album tracks, including ‘Things Will Never Be The Same’ and ‘Watercolours in the Rain’ as well as all the big hits except Almost Unreal, Run to You and Fireworks. And Per hates the latter, allegedly. The fool.
I can understand why they didn’t do much from Charm School, wanting to audience-please, but I wouldn’t have minded one or two more songs from it (we got She’s Got Nothing on (But the Radio) and Only When I Dream).
However, Roxette have hundreds of songs, all of them with fierce fans, so it’s a bit futile wishing for more, especially when what we got was so rich. They’ve also done various others on the tour and thanks to the Tube of You and Setlist.fm, most of the set lists and tracks are out there anyway. The band seem quite happy about this; they’re always linking to stuff on their official Facebook page – which is updated several times a day should you be interested.
They’ve also announced they’ve been recording a Tourism 2 on this tour, which excites me greatly. The first Tourism is their most under-rated album; the acoustic tracks particularly are just beautiful on that one.
Anyway, I bloody loved Tuesday night. I bloody love them.
Roll on Manchester in July!