Review: Roxette, the O2 arena, London 14 July 2015

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I am a bad fan. When Roxette announced the dates for their 2015 tour and I saw that their one UK date was scheduled for the O2 in London, I was sceptical. OK, so they’d sold out Wembley Arena in 2011, but the shows in 2012 in Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham, whilst they sold well, weren’t sellouts themselves. I wasn’t really sure how big the O2 was, but I knew it was bigger than Wembley and I was scared that my favourite group would be playing to a partially empty arena. I was wrong. As with their Wembley gig, this one sold out, reminding me to have a little bit more faith in my idols. Blame it on my years of following Grimsby Town FC.

I hadn’t intended to look at any set list beforehand, wanting to be a little bit surprised. However, I read a review Per linked to the other day and, of course, there was a set list at the end of that. D’oh! Overall, there weren’t many surprises. That’s probably to be expected-it’s a long-running tour, and I’m sure Marie only wants to do songs that are very familiar, not to mention that they have to mainly play the hits in order to please the crowd. Indeed, this was a more hit packed occasion than London or Manchester (last two times I saw them), partly because the only album they had to flog this time was XXX, the latest greatest hits album. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post comparing their many greatest hits albums, by the way!

Of course they didn’t play all the hits. Almost Unreal was an expected absence, but it would still be nice to hear them play that again sometime. Likewise, Church of Your Heart or Run to You would have probably both gone down very well with the crowd, and I really do wish Per would get over his fear of Fireworks, one of my absolute favourites!

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There were very few album tracks or unknown quantities in the set list. Obviously, the audience were less aware of recent songs like Crush on You and, to a lesser extent, She’s got Nothing on (But the Radio). The little medley of Watercolours in the Rain and Paint was a nice touch and hopefully those album tracks the familiar enough for most of the audience to get them. I was also surprised that they’ve been playing Heart Shaped Sea, but not by any means disappointed by that! (I was disappointed to get no Queen of Rain, perhaps, and I live for the hope I’ll one day see them do Silver Blue). It was a good mixture of songs from all eras, except Pearls of Passion, unless you count IMHBL, which I don’t. Where’s the love for PoP, guys? Actually, not sure there was anything from Room Service or Travelling either, but eh. It’s Possible might have been nice, I guess.

Per said it was nearly 4 years since they last played London. I was like ‘No. It was only in… 2011, which was… oh.’ It didn’t feel like four years to me, but the difference those four years have made to the live performances are significant. It’s not that they were in any way poor in 2011 and 12, quite the contrary, but this was a much slicker, tighter, more confident Roxette than on those previous occasions. Marie stayed seated throughout, like a queen commanding her subjects. This was actually a very shrewd move, as when she’d been standing for periods at the previous gigs, she sometimes seemed a little shaky. By taking that element out of it, she seemed much more confident and self-assured, happy to be reigning over us and clearly enjoying every moment. Her voice seemed much more powerful on Monday than it had on those previous occasions, and there was very little evidence of her forgetting the words, only really in a couple of places. Per and the band also look like they were having a great time, and the crowd were fantastic. It did make a difference for me to be sat very close to the front, rather than at the sides as I was in Manchester and London. It was so good to be close to the band and amongst some of the more avid fans, but is looking round the arena, there was a massive love for the songs all around the room, and lots of singing, clapping and cheering.

They played It Must Have Been Love as recorded, which was a nice surprise. I’m used to hearing them doing it live in a variety of alternative arrangements. I’m not sure if I’d ever heard it in the more traditional arrangement before. That was one of my highlights of the evening, along with Watercolours in the Rain/Paint, Crash! Boom! Bang! And, well, pretty much everything. Fading like a Flower was probably the biggest hit of the night, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, with the crowd singing along with great relish to that one-although it was quite hard to pick out which song went down the best, as they were all well received.

A part of me would love to see something slightly different from Roxette next time they tour. I understand why they keep the show the way they do, both in terms of Marie’s own health and having a guaranteed crowdpleasing structure to the set. However (and I think the part of me that expected to see them play smaller venues than arenas in the UK was hoping for something like this), I think if they ever did some kind of acoustic or stripped back show that would be really special. Something like MTV Unplugged, but with some of the newer material and where we could actually go and see it! Still, that’s probably just wishful thinking on my part and, to be honest, I am grateful for any Roxette I can get. I don’t think any of us fans could have imagined back in 2002 when we heard about Marie’s illness that we would ever see anything like this scale of the tours they’ve undertaken this decade and it’s real testament to Per, Marie, the bands, their families and, of course, the fans that they are still such a fantastic force to be reckoned with live.

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On a personal front, going to an arena gig with two bad arms was an incredibly bad idea. Dealing with drinks, especially with the ridiculous arena policies have no tops on bottles, was very hard. The O2 is a nice enough arena, but doesn’t seem to have many facilities on the ground floor. I was nervous the whole time about getting knocked by other members of the crowd, and my sling was pretty sweaty! I was in quite a lot of pain in both arms by the time the gig ended and were it for any other acts (save Kylie, of course), I probably would have cancelled. However, all of the pain and discomfort was entirely worth it. It was such a joyous night, one that really lifted my spirits after the last few weeks of terminal boredom and hospital appointments, and made me fall in love with them all over again (as if I ever fell out).

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