Vienna, VA was transformed into a “Summer Night City” on Sunday night when the an ABBA (named for original members Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, and Anni-Frid from Sweden) cover group stopped by the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. With the open air, lofty wooden ceiling, and fantastic lights, it was as if hundreds of people had gathered for the last celebratory night of Disco Camp. Our troop leaders were several dedicated ABBA fans who have mastered the hits and formed the group Waterloo. Their spectacular tour performance, simply named ABBA: The Concert, was pure joy from beginning to finish.
Little girls, grandpas, and everything in between dressed up in their shiniest garb to hear a tribute to ABBA. While they were at the height of their popularity in the 70s and 80s, their music is still incredibly fun and enjoyable today. Waterloo had no trouble getting the crowd to stand up, sing along, and even do the Swedish Finger Dance (rock your hips from side to side while pointing the alternate finger straight up in the air, preferably to “Mamma Mia”). Their costumes were awesome and so close to the clothes ABBA wore during their shows. I have to say that the most impressive aspect about the performance was the attention to the detail. From dated hairstyles to the choreography, it was obvious that this group did their homework.
This is not to say that they achieved perfection, however. I am probably the toughest possible critic since I have been obsessively listening to ABBA’s songs since the 90s and do not miss a chance to learn more about them. If I see them on the cover of a magazine or book, I immediately buy the publication. When I had the chance to see Mamma Mia onstage, I was dancing in the front row. I noticed every time that Waterloo did not quite match the exact key, lyrics, pitch or power of their (and my) idols. The biggest disappointment was Waterloo’s take on “The Winner Takes It All,” one of ABBA’s most emotional ballads featuring soaring vocals of Agnetha. The new version did not come close to conveying the on-the-verge-of-tears heartbreak of the album recording.
However, there were times when Almost Agnetha’s reserved vocal stylings worked tremendously well. I almost cried during her rendition of “Slipping Through My Fingers,” and she and the other three lead singers completely nailed the trademark harmonies for tunes like “Super Trouper” and “Chiquitita.” During long stretches of the show, I could close my eyes and not know that it wasn’t ABBA and their original backing band performing in front of me. Speaking of which, ABBA: The Concert promises at least two original band members in every show, but I only got to hear one on Sunday. Mike Watson, one of the original ABBA bassists, was more than enough as he dazzled the crowd with his funky solo during “Gimme Gimme Gimme” (the song that was sampled by Madonna for “Hung Up”).
The entire group, from the constantly dancing Almost Björn to the super-talented background singers, shined brightest when finishing the night off with ABBA’s biggest hit, “Dancing Queen.” Everyone let loose and danced with each other on the lawn of the Filene Center. If you haven’t made a trip out to Wolf Trap for a summer show or listened to any of ABBA’s hits, I insist that you make arrangements to do both immediately. They’re both guaranteed good time, so “take a chance, take a chance, take a take a chance chance” on them!
Final Grade: A