News Column

ABBA tribute act performs Saturday at Plaza Theatre

July 26, 2013


July 26--It's been 30 years since Sweden's biggest musical export, ABBA, broke up.

But the massively popular group's infectious songs (and cheesy costumes) live on, thanks in no small part to videos, oldies radio, the musical "Mamma Mia!" and tribute acts like Bjorn Again and Arrival from Sweden.

Arrival will be backed by conductor Andy Moran and the El Paso Symphony Orchestra when it performs its "The Music of Abba" show at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Plaza Theatre.

The quartet prides itself on re-creating the ABBA concert experience down to the costumes, wigs, mannerisms and vocal styles. The group also use some of the musicians who backed the real thing on record and on tour.

"We try to move just like them. We try to copy their looks, even the hair and the makeup and everything," the group's Jeanette Norlander said. "The most important thing is we try to copy the sound as much as we can. We're the closest sound to ABBA."

ABBA took its name from the first initials of members Agnetha F ltskog, Bj rn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The group emerged after its song "Waterloo" won the influential Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 and became a worldwide hit.

Keyboardist Ulvaeus and guitarist Andersson wrote and produced the songs, F ltskog and Lyngstand sang them. That winning

combination led to a string of hits, including "SOS," "Mamma Mia," "Fernando," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Take a Chance on Me" and "Dancing Queen."

The quartet was much bigger internationally than in the United States. Only four of its singles reached the Billboard Top 10 here, with "Dancing Queen" its only No. 1 hit.

But the massive success was too much for its members to handle and factored into the romantic breakups within the group -- Ulvaeus lived with F ltskog; Andersson was married to Lyngstad.

ABBA last appeared as a group on British TV late in 1982.

Ulvaeus and Andersson went on to write the musical "Chess"

with "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Evita" lyricist Tim Rice, and adapted ABBA's songs for the stage in "Mamma Mia!"

F ltskog and Lynstad pursued solo careers.

A revival of interest in the group started with the 1992 hits anthology, "Gold: Greatest Hits," which sold 6 million copies in the United States alone, and continued with the debut of the musical "Mamma Mia!" in 1999 and the film version, starring Meryl Streep, nine years later.

That new interest has been good to tribute groups like Arrival from Sweden, which got its start in 1995. Norlander, who sings F ltskog's parts, attributes the enduring interest in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, which has sold 370 million records worldwide, to the subtle sophistication of their pop songs.

"When you go deep into the songs and see the arrangements and the chords, it's very well-written," she said from her El Paso hotel room.

Even though she's been singing them with group founder Vicky Zetterberg (Lyngstad), guitarist Leif Olsson (Andersson) and keyboardist Fredrik Bjorns (Ulvaeus) for nearly 20 years, Norlander says she hasn't tired of the songs.

"You constantly find new things and that is amazing that you still find new things in the songs you've been singing so many times," she said. "I never get tired of it. I never get tired of ABBA music."

Apparently, neither do U.S. audiences. It's one of 53 countries in which Arrival has performed, but the group is currently on its 32nd North American tour.

"They meet us with such love, so, of course, you like touring here, there's this warmth in the audience," she said, which ranges from kids "in the front row jumping up and down" to fans who grew up listening to the group in the '70s.

The band also played Thursday at the Spencer Theatre near Ruidoso. In Saturday's show, it will be backed by the El Paso Symphony Orchestra.

"The only difference with an orchestra," Norlander said, "is really that it may be even more powerful with the strings and every instrument joining together with our instruments and vocals."

The group came "highly recommended by other orchestras," according to Ruth Ellen Jacobson, the El Paso Symphony's executive director, who is trying to develop a summer pops series after the success of last August's concert with Beatles tribute group Magical Mystery Tour.

"That was the test," she said.

She has also booked tribute band the Music of Led Zeppelin to perform with the orchestra Aug. 24 at the Plaza Theatre.

There could be more.

"We're considering bringing back the Beatles group. We've had a lot of requests for them," Jacobson said, adding that she's "looking into some other shows" for next summer.

Features co-editor Doug Pullen writes about entertainment. Call him at 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at


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