Pope, Alexanderby Roger Young, images by Michael Currin / 16.05.2011
Nostalgia, like pop music, is a curse; they both reduce complex emotions into dealable chunks, things we are able to share. Because the reality is that no-one person’s nuances of memory or feeling can ever really been fully transmitted or explained to another. No matter how similar there will always be an incommunicable gap. A curse because, in the same way that we believe nostalgia connects us to the past, we believe that pop music connects us to each other; when what is happening is disconnection, a simplifying that allows us to escape from exploring the nuances between us.
She is leather dressed in leather, she comes on stage with an angry cocky lesbian strut, hardly notices the audience and launches into the first song. Seven thousand people go apeshit in a completely non-ironic fashion.Roxette are playing at Grand West Casino. It’s 8pm on a Tuesday night and I’m surrounded by people my age or people ten years younger; each with a different memory of how they used to feel about Roxette, each, for this moment, believing that this is an ultimate experience. Especially those between the stage and where we are standing, against the barrier to the Golden Circle. This, in itself, is one of the most confusing and eye opening moments of the concert; that there is a Golden Circle, that people would want to be in the Roxette Golden Circle and that people who like Roxette can afford Golden Circle tickets. My sidekick for the evening, who falls into the group of people who vaguely remember Roxette from before they were ten, looks at me like I’m an idiot when I bring this up.
“Big Love, you know what I’m saying!” shouts Marie Fredriksson, looking like a survivor of a million Love Parades and jutting her chin out at the crowd in the same way bergies do when excited. I nod like I, in fact, do know what she’s saying. Roxette then break into “Sleeping In The Back Seat Of My Car” and I discover I’m singing along. You see I would never have admitted to liking Roxette back then, or even now, but I do know all the words. I am here merely to experience them ironically and aloofly. I am here not to enjoy Roxette but to enjoy my cynicism. I shout a remark to my sidekick about the fact that the dude from Roxette keeps changing guitars with no discernable difference in guitar sound when a chubby guy in a white hoodie (whose girlfriend is wearing a shit ton of what I guess old timey people used to call rouge) says to me:
“Are you a musician? I’m a musician, I love this band!”
I shout back, “Of course I love this band, why else would I be here?”
My sidekick looks at me like I’m being a dick. I’m plainly fucking with her nostalgia. But she was mocking the “Roxette Charm School” sticker on the bass drum earlier so I’m guessing, as hard as it is to read her, that she’s probably in the same state of disconnect as I am. Our disconnect might also have something to do with sobriety caused by, firstly, the extreme prices of drinks earlier and then, secondly, the fact that once we had committed to drinking expensively, the bar had closed.
Have you noticed that I wasn’t really paying that much attention to Roxette? So far we’ve spent most of the gig passing remarks on the strange look on the old bassist dude’s face, exacerbated by his milk bottle glasses, the indie guy’s jutting chin and the keyboardist’s vaguely African hat. Then sidekick asks me if I think they’ve had sex, we both turn and survey Per and Marie of Roxette on the big screen; they’re both visibly homosexual in their own ways, I say to her “No ways,” she says “Come on, you leave two people alone in a room, working together for long enough, they’re gonna fuck.” At that moment “I Wish I Could Fly” comes on and for some reason it sweeps us off our feet; we’re shouting the words along with all the other thousands, it’s no longer nostalgia, it’s there, it’s a moment in the present but it’s still pop music because it’s sure as shit meaning different things to each of us.
Per, the dude from Roxette, steps up to the mic and says something like “Wonderful to be here, tonight we’re going to be playing some old hits and some new material, maybe you’ll like it, let’s see what happens.” Roxette have new material? The song begins and Per, freed from relentless years of lesbian oppression sings the rousing opening verse, totally owning the track. Oh wait, it’s an old song, Marie takes over on the chorus and beats him back into just being the grinning guitar guy again. It’s the next track that is a new song, well, newish, but they’re not exactly experimenting, it’s indistinguishable from the old songs. It might be disappointing to us but to indie guy, the bassist and the back up singer with great lace tights (who fills in whenever Marie loses her voice) it is an excuse to rock out. They get into rock guitar formation and kinda line dance the entire width of the stage looking for all the world like they are really enjoying themselves. It’s then that I start to wonder what it must be like to be the back up singer in a Roxette tour group? To be there to fill in for when someone else’s voice can’t handle the high notes. It’s also then that I wonder about the moment when Fredriksson realised that she needed such a person. It fills me with a sudden fatalism that doesn’t match the joy on stage. God, I think, what if they’re just enjoying living in the moment, accepting who they are and all that, I mean, is that possible?
The rest of the gig is a bit of a blur. They perform an old song with only Marie on vocals and the milk bottle bassist on lapsteel, on the screen is looping archive footage of lighters (I guess because this is a no smoking venue.) Marie’s voice is strong on this one but on “Listen To Your Heart” it cracks again a little and she lets the audience take over the chorus; there is also a great effect on the big screen, like a page curl cut out heart thing. Then Per introduces “Our hit from the 90’s” and, before he gets the name out, the whole of Grand West Arena let’s out a roar, like they’re actually cheering for the 90’s. They break into “How Do You Do” and the guy in the white hoodie goes mad, throws his rouged girlfriend around, the big screen features a lot of crash zooms and then it’s over.
It’s when the crowd call for an encore that I see them, standing up in the balcony seats like women in sexually segregated churches, the people in the cheap seats, so far away from the stage doing some kind of sea anemone dance in unison. These people so far away, so into it, so not me, people I’m so envious of.
The encore is tedious, it starts with “Spending My Time” done, at first, alone by Frediksson but the audience has to carry her through most of it; her voice just not handling it. They break into “She’s Got The Look”, which somehow segues into “Hey Jude.” Didn’t U2 do “Hey Jude” when they were here as well? I mean, fuckit, Roxette and U2 are basically the same band; trading on former glories to keep the ships of their egos from sinking. You can hardly blame them; you’d do it too.
It’s three days later and I’m in the bar at the Kimberly Hotel. It’s around 2am and someone has put Roxette on the jukebox. Sidekick and I smile at each other. Then another Roxette song comes on, then another. I go over to the couple at the jukebox, “Were you at Roxette?” I ask. He looks like a stockbroker or a junior partner in a law firm, she’s dressed as if she has money, more than that I can’t tell, “Golden Circle, baby,” she shouts, putting another coin in the jukebox. “I Wish I Could Fly” comes on. While Sidekick and I briefly dance, she says to me, “This is better than the actual concert.” I agree, loving the moment, not caring either way. Pop music, like nostalgia, is a curse.
*All images © Michael Currin.