Having literally just gotten off the plane from New York where I spent two nights with the real Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus as they presented the first English language performance of their musical, Kristina at Carnegie Hall, I took the opportunity to attend the ABBA Fab tribute concert at Escondido’s California Center For The Arts. As the author of the eZine article, “ABBA Tribute Bands – 8 Tips To Improve Your Show” I often like to check out ABBA Tribute Bands to see which ones are worth recommending and which ones are worth avoiding.
ABBA Fab bills themselves as “The Premiere ABBA Experience” on their posters for the event and on their website at ABBAFab.com as “The most amazing tribute show you will see anywhere.” which are some pretty grand statements for a tribute band that has never been seen or heard by me or any of the other ABBA fans I am in touch with around the globe. So I was a bit skeptical of their claim as I have seen some truly great ABBA tribute performances and some truly appalling performances as well.
In the process of trying to find out more information about them, it appears that the ABBA Fab performances are part of a packaged set of shows, the same group of people also offer a tribute show called “Piano Man” which pays tribute to the music of Billy Joel and Elton John, and indeed the Piano Man show was booked at the California Center For the Arts the night before the ABBA Fab show. I am guessing that the ABBA Fab show is a relatively new show they’ve put together because the website has many sections of “coming soon” such as links to audio and video, which I’m sure will slowly start to fill in as they perform and record additional gigs, but for now they offer nothing.
The ticket price range for the show at Escondido’s California Center For The Arts ranged from $20 for upper balcony seats to $50 for orchestra seats. For an unproven act, I’m not willing to pay top dollar, so I waited until I got back from New York to buy my ticket at the venue just before the show just in case I had issues with my flights. There were still plenty of tickets left when I showed up minutes before the lobby of the venue was opened. I took one of the $20 tickets and soon discovered it was a seat near the center of the very last row of the upper most balcony, basically as far from the stage as it was possible to be in the venue. A great vantage point to gauge the audience reaction as well as my own. Aside from a couple who sat down near one of the edges of the row, I pretty much had the whole row to myself.
The show started with a display of trivia to the tune of “ABBAture” from the Lewis Clark and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s recording of ABBA tunes that has been released under a multitude of names over the years. The on screen displays had some interesting but simple questions relating to songs. The final question was what are the names of ABBA Fab’s girls who perform the songs, which was not immediately obvious, however the answer is Anne Davies and Chelsea Faulds.
The show then immediately begins by launching into “Dancing Queen.” ABBA Fab are certainly the first tribute band I’ve ever seen that starts with “Dancing Queen” all the others save it for the very end. Another unique thing is that ABBA Fab just dispense with the idea of having a Björn and Benny and only recreate Agnetha and Frida. When they introduced Chelsea as Frida they mention she’s only 19 years old, making her certainly one of the youngest I’ve ever seen portray one of the ABBA girls in a tribute band. Anne as Agnetha was certainly older, I would guess at least in her early 40’s based on the fact she introduced the percussionist as her fifteen year old son and that she said she had once sung “I Have A Dream” as a child and won a talent contest with it. It’s almost funny the age difference as in the real ABBA Agnetha was the youngest and that was constantly mentioned I’m sure much to Frida’s annoyance.
The costumes of the girls were reminiscent of the 1977 Australian Tour outfits, however with silver colored trim instead of gold. Surprisingly these were the only costumes, despite the fact there was an intermission. Personally I’m glad to not have seen the cliché cat costumes which have been overdone to death. Although the video footage of the real ABBA on the screen did feature the real ABBA in the cat suits.
The show is a combination of live performance with a well researched visual component. The songs included footage of the real ABBA performing the songs, some footage from the videos, as well as photos from over the years, pictures of albums and single covers, as well as additional trivia and sometimes lyrics to songs. The performance was certainly well rehearsed in that in a lot of the video footage the ABBA Fab girls were singing in time with the ABBA girls in the video footage. I’m not sure of the legal permissions needed for the actual footage of ABBA especially from official videos but I do know the real Björn and Benny are notorious for not allowing permission for anything.
I couldn’t quite pinpoint the accents of Anne Davies and her husband Terry Davies as the music director of the band. My guess would be either British or Australian, but it’s very clear they’re both fans of ABBA. In addition to playing keyboards Terry was also running the video show from his keyboard station. He was also a prominent vocal contributor filling in when male vocals were necessary, such as “Does Your Mother Know.” Even though he was not necessarily portraying “Benny” per se, as an ABBA fan, I found it rather odd to see Terry’s keyboard station to the left side of the stage, as Benny always seems to stage his piano or keyboards to the right side of the stage as viewed from the audience. ABBA Fab’s guitar player, Scott Pearson, was stationed to the right hand side of the stage, and he was clearly having a great time performing and it was some of the most energetic guitar playing I’ve seen since Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac.
I usually rank ABBA tribute bands according to the eight points I raise in the eZine Article I wrote. So let’s take a look at how ABBA Fab stacks up. The original article can be viewed by “clicking here“.
In terms of fake Swedish accents, ABBA Fab scored well, they didn’t try to fake any Swedish accents at all. As I said above, Anne and Terry had accents but I couldn’t place them as being either British or Australian which sound nothing like Swedish ones. It was refreshing to hear a tribute act not trying to fake the Swedish between songs.
ABBA Fab also stuck to the ABBA catalogue. They did not perform the songs of other acts in an effort to be cute. This is high praise for a tribute act to stick with the material of the artists they are paying tribute to.
Another annoying habit of some tribute acts is to try and spark audience participation by turning a song into an audience competition. ABBA Fab did invite the audience to sing and dance along but fortunately restrained from the temptation of sparking a competition with the various sides of the venue. It was a lot more fun just to sing along if we chose to.
In terms of song selection, ABBA Fab stuck to the hits. There’s nothing wrong with that as that’s perfectly acceptable as most people aren’t familiar with the main albums of ABBA just the best of packages. However, I am a little disappointed not see a lesser known track as it’s obvious from the trivia bits shown on the screen quite a bit of research went into preparing the visual aspect of the show. Surely in all that research a fun lessor known song could have been found to play as well.
In terms of costuming, I’ve already mentioned this wasn’t ABBA Fab’s strongest category. The girls had only the one outfit that did look like the 1977 Australian tour costumes except with silver trim instead of gold. The plainness of the outfits just looked like a solid white from the rafters of the venue where I was sitting and even that far back the wig on Chelsea as Frida looked bad. I couldn’t tell if Anne’s hair as Agnetha was a wig or not. The rest of the band all had identical outfits, kind black pants with white shirts topped with a black vest look. It looked classy and good as far as I’m concerned.
Sticking to your “character” is the category where ABBA Fab fails. In authentically reproducing ABBA, it requires the Agnetha character to sing Agnetha songs and Frida to sing Frida songs, and several times the wrong girl sang the songs. For example, Chelsea as Frida sang “S.O.S.” and “The Winner Takes It All.” And Anne as Agnetha took the reins on “Money, Money, Money” and “I Have A Dream” and they turned “Thank You For The Music” into a duet, where the original is primarily Agnetha. This was especially funny in “Money, Money, Money” when Anne as Agnetha is singing away with the real Frida singing the song in the background on the video screen. The only really glaring error they made in their trivia was that they stated “The Winner Takes It All” was inspired by Benny and Frida’s divorce, when it was actually Agnetha and Björn’s divorce.
And in terms of respecting the music and having fun, I think ABBA Fab had that covered in spades. It’s clear they love the music and have a great time performing it. Their enthusiasm was definitely infectious and the audience at Escondido’s California Center For The Arts had a great time. Quite a lot of the audience gave ABBA Fab a standing ovation at the conclusion of the concert where they performed “Dancing Queen” for a second time.
Overall, I think ABBA Fab are a fun show, they are well worth seeing. My only complaint is that on their website they claim, “ABBA-FAB is the closest re-creation to an original ABBA concert that you will ever see – from the stunningly accurate vocals of Anne Davies and Chelsea Faulds to an amazing 8 piece band led by Terry Davies” and that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is no way I can give my seal of approval on this as the closest re-creation to an original ABBA concert, especially without the presence of in costume “Björn” and “Benny” characters, the girls singing each other’s songs, and lack of truly accurate costumes. The vocals were good, but the choreography wasn’t nearly authentic to ABBA at all. And the real ABBA would never have had a video and trivia show going on during the show. For a tribute band that’s fine but doesn’t make for an accurate “re-creation.”
If you want to see an as close to authentic ABBA tribute, then your best bet is still Arrival from Sweden. They are the only ABBA tribute band to get everything right on my criteria list which was based on the biggest complaints ABBA fans had about ABBA tribute bands. Arrival travels to America frequently to perform and often perform with local orchestras in addition to recruiting actual ABBA band members to tour with them. Their costumes were recreated under the supervision of ABBA’s costume designer and as a tribute band that originates from Sweden, have authentic Swedish accents allowing them to do nice embellishments like doing the first half of “Fernando” in Swedish. Check out Arrival.se to learn more about Arrival and find their latest touring schedule.
As for ABBA Fab, I would say go see them, it’s a fun show, but don’t expect an authentic recreation of ABBA. It’s definitely an enthusiastic and loving tribute, but very far from accurate. Also at $20 for my seat, I was very happy with the performance. Had I have paid $50 for the top tier seats, I would have been quite pissed off by this show. Go see them, but don’t pay top dollar for it, they aren’t yet worth it in my opinion, but the potential to be worth it is there.