Roxette are touring the world; they have been for coming on a year now. They sold out the 13,000 seat Sydney Entertainment Centre twice, and a third show was added to their Sydney bill. Yet not everyone “gets” Roxette. The Australian press are largely dismissive, if not openly bitchy, about the prospect of their existence in the first place, not to mention their continued existence, their sheer nerve at remaining a functional band some 26 years after their formation (with two generous hiatuses in between).
There are people who were in the audience last night, there to relive the barely recollected glory of their misspent youth, who possibly never really connected with the band beyond a vague familiarity with their work on the radio. These are the people who do not know that, rather like Blondie, Roxette is the name of the band.
These same people also don’t understand that time marches on for everyone, and not just them; that a fifty three year old cancer survivor can’t reasonably expected to look exactly the same as she did in her mid twenties.
But that’s enough frustration; there clearly were people at the concert who cared deeply about Roxette, who had a natural affinity for one of the all time greatest albums, Joyride, who understood that some things remain good, no matter how many years they’ve been removed from their point of origin.
Roxette was not perfect last night, but for many of us this was something that we’ve waited all of our lives for, ever since Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo teamed up to save Samantha Mathis from Dennis Hopper. Last night was a watershed, a rite of passage. I would not say that it was a religious experience, but there are some things that you simply have to do. To deny your fate would be foolish.
Opening their twenty one song set with “Dressed For Success”, Per and Marie set a precedent: this was no Charm School tour; they were going to primarily play what the audience wanted to hear. Given their predilection for big songs that they expect the audience to provide the choruses of, this was a wise choice. The opening triple whammy continued with “Sleeping In My Car”, which is still grammatically dubious after all these years, and “The Big L.”, delivered here without the whips that the audience may have been expecting.
The territory got rather rockier for the audience members whose final years of high school were not punctuated by rabid hunts for every last piece of Roxette ephemera, people unfamiliar with the 1999 album Have A Nice Day. “Wish I Could Fly” remains a good song, but a strange choice for the first ballad of the evening. As the later ballads proved to largely be show stoppers
The awkwardness began when the Charm School songs kicked in. Charm School is not a bad album, but it has nothing in particular to set itself apart like, for instance, Room Service’s superlative “The Centre of the Heart”, which failed to get a look-in last night. Charm School is serviceable, but it’s not an album to hang a tour on. To me, Roxette are more than just a “novelty”, but I understand that you can’t pack stadiums on the basis of a relatively obscure album from a band that many people in your country haven’t heard of for anywhere between ten and seventeen years. Not everyone is as obsessive as me.
The night changed significantly when Per announced that he was going to take us to Hollywood, and bam: “It Must Have Been Love”. 13,000 people sung the chorus in unison before the instrumentation kicked in properly and the song remains as strong now as ever it was. Would anyone remember Julia Roberts’ Pygmalion effort had she not parted ways with Richard Gere to these sorrowful strains initially written as a German Christmas single for the 1987 season? (Possibly.)
“Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave)” continued to get the audience going, and then we were in for a rare and strange treat: “Crash! Boom! Bang!” with Per on prime vocals. I’ve listened to a fair few Roxette demos in my time, and it’s always strange to listen to Marie songs sung by Per with the gender inverted. For the first time in my hearing, this song sounded natural coming from his mouth (although “when you’ve found your girl make sure she’s for real” still seems wrong), and as a duet it was surprisingly effective.
This bled into the first ending: the triumphantly infectious “How Do You Do!” segued directly into “Dangerous”, and then we had no choice but to join the “Joyride”. It was a good ending, except … it obviously wasn’t.
A night of Roxette with no “Heart” songs? This will never do! “Spending My Time” is as good as it ever was, and “The Look” became the second cap on the night – this version emphasising Per’s reliance on The Beatles for inspiration, as the ridiculous “na na na nas” nearly became a parody of “Hey Jude”.
They left again. Still no “Heart” songs? I was damn near ready to demand my money back (and here is where I point out that it has cost me marginally less to see Roxette twice than it is costing me to see Lady Gaga once). So of course Per and Marie returned for the final time and implored: “Listen To Your Heart”. Draping themselves in an Australian flag, they performed “Church Of Your Heart” and disappeared, asking us to stop by again soon, maybe tomorrow. Little did they know I have the tickets and the friends to go with them.
Roxette are obviously no longer spring chickens. This is a simple fact. Marie had to reeducate herself to almost Liza Minnelli levels after particularly strenuous chemotherapy, and sometimes this strain translates to her stage persona. At times she seemed uncertain of lyrics (as Per warned before “Perfect Day” started: “sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t”), and was obviously frustrated by the fact. “Crash! Boom! Bang!” in particular no longer features the line “and the pain stays the same”, here substituted for the repeated “it has always been the same”. Her heavenly backing vocals are no longer so easily provided, and the Have A Nice Day song “7Twenty7” is somewhat lost on stage without them. It is of course worth noting that the stage – a literal arena, in this case – is different and less controlled than a studio environment.
Despite the obvious and understandable effects of age and a successful battle with a debilitating illness, Marie still managed to mostly triumph – there were more than enough moments of pure magic and excitement for one night. Per, for his part, is full of boundless energy – and he has always been the more outspoken member of the band versus Marie’s wallflower personality borne of her less confident English.
Most of the people were in the audience last night because they had a reason to be there; Roxette does not fare well under the watchful gaze of a cynic: you can’t attend one of these concerts ironically, because Per and Marie are so earnest and sincere that to roll your eyes at Roxette would be to deny your own heart.
Certainly I would have loved to have seen Roxette in 1995, but I was ten then, and was not yet on my way to memorising all of the lyrics in my sleep before I even properly knew what they meant. Turns out “Sleeping In My Car” is not actually about sleeping in a car. If you were ever a fan, Roxette are still as worthy of your time now as they ever were. If you’ve forged a genuine connection to Roxette across the years – or even just the weeks – there’s still every reason to love and support them.
I will admit, I’m going to be doing this all over again tonight, but I’m sure that these are two nights that I will never have cause to regret.