After 20 years of semi-ironic obsession, I finally got to see Roxette live. But after all the missed opportunities and anticipation, the memories I took home from the night were not the ones I expected to have.
I used to hate Roxette. true fact. I’m old enough to remember when they first stormed on the scene with The Look (which I didn’t mind too much). Then they continued to infest my airwaves with Joyride, which I couldn’t stand (I think hearing Joyride on my radio one morning was the point at which my loathing fully crystallized). I even remember sitting in front of Top Of The Pops one evening, watching alongside a good friend of mine who was aghast as the Rox assaulted us with their latest single (How Do You Do!). To be fair, he was into Dinosaur Jr so it was never really going to work between Roxette and him.
But, somehow, between 1992 and 1994 I actually started to like Roxette. I have no idea how or why, only that I ended up playing a fair bit of Roxette while I was working in Our Price (an expired UK chain of record shops). Maybe it’s the healing power of nostalgia. By the time Crash! Boom! Bang! came out I was enthusiastic enough to be quite excited by the occasion.
I can’t claim to be a superfan: I didn’t rush out and buy any of their albums after that, but I did keep listening to them (much to my wife’s chagrin). I always had an idea that I’d quite like to see them live, but their 2012 tour coincided with the birth of my second son (“Honey, you’re distracting me here – can you time your contractions to the tempo of Dressed For Success?”). I figured that was it, and jokingly made a deal with my wife that I’d go with her to see Veruca Salt (her favourite band), but it meant that she had to promise to come and see Roxette with me in the unlikely event they ever returned to Perth. Needless to say they announced a new tour the next week, including Perth dates. So it was that we ended up going to see Roxette live on Valentine’s Day, 2015.
I knew that it had been a bumpy ride, to say the least. Back in 2002, lead singer Marie Fredriksson was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She passed out in her bathroom one day and, while receiving treatment for concussion, found out that there was something much worse at play. She recovered, but it was a long and (no doubt) painful process, the cost of which is all too easy to see and hear. She is now blind in her right eye, has trouble hearing with her right ear, and struggles with weakness in her right leg.
Consequently I knew, going in, that this wouldn’t be the Roxette of the 1990s. From the live recordings I’d heard over the last few years I knew that Marie could still hit the notes, but also that her voice wasn’t perhaps as reliable as it had been. Sometimes even the words escaped her. Friends who had been to see Roxette in 2012 told me that she tended to sit through most of the performance and that a backing singer was on hand to fill in where needed.
So, when the lights came on I was quite surprised to see Marie standing alongside the rest of the band, though I noted that she kept her hands clamped to the mic stand (which I later learned was fixed to the floor for support) and didn’t move from her spot. It was impressive to see her determined to start the night on her feet, and a little saddening to see so easily how something that we take for granted (the ability to move freely) can be taken from you.
Then, just a few songs in her legs suddenly betrayed her. I surely wasn’t the only person in the audience who wondered if they were about to give way. She put out a hand out behind her, waving for support (in retrospect it could have been her gesturing ‘I’m ok’, but that wasn’t my first interpretation). Her backing singer rushed to her side. I was expecting Marie to simply be led off stage. But the band played on. Marie remained standing. She even carried on singing. The song ended and the many of the crowd stood up to give her a standing ovation. At that point I don’t think anyone would have objected if she’d excused herself for the rest of the night and had the band carry on without her.
But no. Instead, a stagehand brought out a chair. Marie sat down. And the show went on.
After this point, I thought that she might shy away from any solo singing and leave the heavy lifting to her backing singer. This was another assumption that was quickly proven wrong: a few songs later a keyboard was placed next to Marie, the backing singer sat down in front of it and the rest of the band left the stage. Marie went on to deliver a really quite beautiful, largely solo rendition of Watercolours In The Rain. It was astounding. The crowd gave her another standing ovation, once again very clearly telling her how very impressed and grateful they were.
After that mid-point, following a storming performance of How Do You Do, the tempo picked up quite dramatically. The band were clearly getting into it. Per Gessle, having just celebrated his 50th birthday, was jumping around like a schoolboy. There were whole sections of the crowd on their feet (including the two people next to us, who were having the best time). Meanwhile, Marie remained patiently in her seat, stumbling over the occasional line, but delivering the notes where it counted. I wondered how she must feel, not being able to get up and share in the energy of the performance, how lonely it might be. And then one of my favourite moments of night happened: the other members of the band, who had been thoroughly rocking out and racing to all corners of the stage, all came together to stand next to Marie. She might not have been able to join them, but they took the moment to make sure she knew that she hadn’t been forgotten. I had seen no evidence of any resentment on Marie’s part, and I didn’t expect any, but it was very clear how much she appreciated that small moment where they all came together for her.
Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and live shows always have at least two ends. Before the encore I watched as Marie was first helped out of her seat and then helped off stage. A slow, tortuous process, and one undertaken very much in the eye of the public. She came back for the encore, sitting down of course, but with her voice somehow sounding as it might have done twenty years ago. The final song ended and I expected to see Marie being helped up and led off stage again. Instead she stood up, reached for Per, and the band lined up on either side of her to take a bow. Given how shaky she had seemed earlier, I was really impressed that she was determined to do something as potentially hazardous as taking a bow. But it demonstrated that acknowledging the audience, and their applause, was important to her. After that, the other members of the band walked away and allowed Per and Marie have the stage to themselves for a moment. As critical a part of the evening as the other members had been (and the applause was for them too), they were nevertheless generous enough to remember that Roxette was about two people, and that those two people should get a moment alone with the crowd.
And those are the memories that I’ll take from the evening. A singer who was more frail than I had realised, but still had the strength, passion and generosity to give the best she could for the whole performance, even when no one would have blamed her for walking away. A crowd who, in turn, were generous and supportive enough to show their appreciation for this. A band who never got so lost in their performances that they forgot to check on Marie’s wellbeing at regular intervals, and who made sure she could still feel part of the action even when she couldn’t get out of her chair. And finally, a group of performers who, despite bringing Roxette to vibrant life for the night — who *were* Roxette for the night — didn’t mind remembering that it was Per and Marie that the audience had connected with all those years ago.
Oh, and the music was pretty awesome too 😉