Monday, March 12, 2012

Roxette: live in Melbourne, 2012

Venue: Rod Laver Arena
Date: 18/02/2012

Swedish duo Roxette have endured as a pretty successful band for around 25 years, both here and around the world. However, somewhere along the line, attention to them waned in Australia, whose love for the band’s edgy pop/rock songs was unrelenting early on, evidenced by a string of top 40 hits between 1989 and 1993. The latest album, Charm School was released last year but with little local fanfare - just as the bulk of contemporary Roxette albums - so a ‘90s-heavy setlist is in order for the Swede’s first Aussie show in 17 years.

The songs selected for their current tour offered both an interesting peek into Roxette’s idea of what would best appease their Australian audiences, and what they themselves feel works best live. These two notions work to varying degrees of success in what is a tremendously fun, yet occasionally flawed concert. Considerable time is given to 1991 album, Joyride for example, which errs on the side of ‘too much’, while breakthrough set, Look Sharp is under-represented in a way. Later releases, Have A Nice Day and Room Service are all but forgotten, but the general polite applause offered to anything post 1994 possibly scared the band out of getting too clever with the set list. After all, the last time Roxette moved mass units here, it was in the form of cassingles sales – so naturally they drew a full crowd of fans who see them as more a nostalgia act. Energetic guitarist/songwriter, Per Gessle – looking in exquisite shape for his age – accepts this fact; “We’re going to play a few songs off our new album Charm School…. (muted response) but mostly we’re gonna be playing all your favourite Roxette classics!” (thunderous applause.) 

Perhaps Roxette are a nostalgia act in terms of ‘when they had hits’, but you can hardly call their later material a weak by comparison. 2011 single, She’s Got Nothing On (But The Radio) is pure pop heaven, showing only the tiniest shift to what we might call an ‘updated sound’ for a band who never really change what they do, and hey why would they… the formula works. Aside from the songs, the band is also highly functional – most are the original touring line-up from the early days - and it shows in their polished precision. For many here tonight though it’s all about that platinum blonde chick with the incredible voice that so many mistakenly referred to as Roxette herself; Marie Fredriksson. In concert, Marie is all about poise and delivery. She can do intimate, she can do subtle, she can soar and she can even roar when required. Even still, the plucky, white-funk of Dressed For Success proves to be a bastard to sing. Marie is at an age where her vocal range is gradually lowering therefore, the songs she sang as a 20 year-old are not going to be resplendent with the all up-and-down-the-scale glory.

These changes to familiar songs are at first jarring but over the course of the show, that slightly rougher vocal style becomes enchanting. Several times, as if to highlight Fredricksson’s deeper register, the band bow out and allow her to sing accapella for a few bars and it never fails to impress. A run of back-to-back power ballads gives Marie further chance to shine but Roxette are always a greater option when she and Gessle duet. How Do You Do!, Joyride and Dangerous lift the roof with the power of their combined voices and you wonder why they don’t just make ‘em all like that. Marie’s own It Must Have Been Love - which gets a wordy introduction as the song that ‘paved their way to Hollywood’ – suddenly makes perfect sense in an arena-proportioned building. Then just as the pleasant, uplifting vibrations seem to be in unending quantities, the pre-encore exodus is upon us - and I do mean exodus. For a hundred or so fans, the best bits have already been and gone, so either they’ve never been to a concert before or the babysitter’s about to start earning overtime. Us left behind are dealt an almost wonderful Listen To Your Heart - which sadly never quite gets off the ground - and a bizarre Church Of Your Heart, which just sounds a bit too Sunday school sing-a-long church-y weirdness making it a bit of a soggy blanket among an otherwise well chosen set. Still, it feels wrong picking fault with Roxette, especially after a storming, The Look which concluded the main set. Basically, we were witness to one of the finest bands in their field, especially when you consider many of the subsequent rubbish acts who now represent the Europop scene. Even if their time is past, Roxette at least remind us of a really fantastic time in pop music, when the composers/song writers were also the performers and the reality TV schlock was still unheard of. This alone makes it a time worth revisiting and even relishing.



Dressed For Success
Sleeping In My Car
The Big L
I Wish I Could Fly
Only When I Dream
She's Got Nothing On (But The Radio)
Perfect Day
Things Will Never Be The Same
It Must Have Been Love
Fading Like A Flower
Crash! Boom! Bang!
How Do You Do
Watercolours In The Rain
Spending My Time
The Look
Listen To Your Heart
Church Of Your Heart

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