Roxette At The Gibson

They were fantastic!

I was horrified by the venue. Once upon a time the Universal Amphitheatre was topless, it was a magical place that was the toast of L.A. Then they put a roof on it. So the neighbors would stop complaining and they could do shows year-round. Now it’s like the bar scene in “Star Wars.” Post-modern. So laden with advertising you’d think Live Nation was having a closeout sale and was planning to close up shop immediately.

There was a Heineken beer garden with Red Bull tables.

Drinks were served at multiple Tecate stands. There was advertising for a supermarket. And when you reached down to place your overpriced drink in its holder in front of your seat, you found it was wrapped in a Bud Light sticker. Something is terribly wrong in music. It’s got no heart, no soul, it’s mostly about the money. And if you think the public does not know, you’re sorely mistaken.

I didn’t see a single person I knew the whole damn night.

I expected the venue to be empty. Because they didn’t even have someone to park your car backstage. I mean I can do it myself, but usually they charge or do it as a courtesy/security. Finally someone came out from the building and lifted the tape and allowed me to park. I expected the venue to be a ghostland, a financial and emotional disaster.

But it was 85% full.

I didn’t understand it. The band didn’t have a U.S. record deal. They hadn’t been in the States in twenty years. Who’d know?

So it must have been papered. To avoid embarrassment. Punters out for a night of next to free entertainment.

But when the band hit the stage there was thunderous applause and a standing ovation. These people knew every word. Who were they? Kids raised on MTV? The average age was about thirty. Huh?

And at first I was a bit disappointed. You see they were a little rough. Emphasis on “little.” Because we expect perfection. Because so many of today’s live performances are not. They’re basically singing to hard drive. So the kids won’t be disappointed. With a lot of whiz-bang effects to make sure their short attention spans don’t wander.

And Marie Fredriksson… There was something wrong with her.

Now I know there’s something wrong with her. She had a brain tumor. They said she’s fully recovered. That she was healthy. But she’s not. She doesn’t walk so well and according to Wikipedia, she’s blind in one eye.

But she can still sing. Boy can she sing!

Like I said, it took a few numbers for her to warm up. And the band too. Because they were playing live. What a concept! This show made you want to go home, practice and play, they were having such a good time, it was the essence of what once was. Music!

You know the Swedes. They can do what we can times two. Maybe because it’s so damn cold and dark they’ve got no option. The lead guitarist could play in Guns N’ Roses. With his distortion and technical flair. Oh, he didn’t look the part. But didn’t you hear that music comes from the inside?

As for the drummer. He looked like he just came in from working on the railroad. With that cap and long gray hair. He’s the original guy. But he had power rivaling John Bonham. He was truly the engine driving the band.

And then there was the producer on keyboards and a bass player and Per. Who looked much younger than his years but has been a rock star in Sweden for twenty five years. And just about as long on the rest of the Continent, in the rest of the world. Yes, Roxette are superstars everywhere but here.

And it’s easy to see why. It’s because of the songs!

You know, they’ve got THE LOOK!

Sure, it was a big MTV hit, but that stinging guitar riff might not be “All Right Now” but it’s close. You couldn’t help but stand there and sing the “na-nas” at the top of your lungs when the band broke down and let the audience perform. Which happened multiple times. And, like I said, everybody knew every word.

And they did “It Must Have Been Love.”

And when they did “Perfect Love,” anybody would have swooned. Just Per and Marie. You know that authentic sound of an acoustic guitar, played perfectly by a master, the ringing truth that emanates? That’s the essence of music, not the cacophony, but the simplicity. A little is enough. A Pete Townshend so eloquently put it, “there once was a note pure and easy.”

And you can bet Roxette listened to all those Who records. Because history is important if you want to make it big, top the charts. You’ve got to have a foundation.

And I ignored Roxette at first. Just another lightweight pop confection. But then I got infected by “Joyride,” I couldn’t hear it enough, I taped the video from MTV so I could play it whenever I wanted, this is what we did way back when, before the Internet era.

And I loved it so much, I decided to play the album.

And that’s when I truly got hooked. By “Watercolours In The Rain.” It’s like a Led Zeppelin record. Starting with twisting acoustic guitar, then getting heavy and electric and going back again. If you like “Ten Years Gone” you’ll like “Watercolours In The Rain.”

And there were other winners on the “Joyride” album. Like “The Big L.” and “Church Of Your Heart,” which was done acoustically as the final encore. But what totally blew me away was last night’s performance of “Spending My Time.”

Funny how these songs are in your DNA. I haven’t played “Spending Your Time” in years, but I know every note, because if you’ve ever broken up, you know it’s true, with a feel exactly like you feel, wistful.

Spending my time
Watching the days go by
Feeling so small
I stare at the wall
Hoping that you think of me too

That’s it exactly! That’s the essence of disconnection, of breaking up. You’re experiencing emotional torture, are they too? Do you cross their mind, or are they happy and smiling in their brand new life?

Per and Marie didn’t have instant success. They both were journeymen before they hooked up. And worked together before they broke through. You see music is a life. With twists and turns. And just maybe, you’ll get lucky. Like when an exchange student returns to Minneapolis from Sweden and gets your record played on the local radio station.

But the old men in suits don’t believe in anything this simple anymore. They don’t want talent. They want Silly Putty, something malleable they can put through their machine, that they can squeeze and manipulate, a product to be consumed today and then discarded tomorrow.

I’m not saying that there’s not a future for electronic music or rap, but the essence of the business, the bedrock, is songs. That’s how you endure, by writing nuggets of truth that you present in such a way the public finds them irresistible.

That’s what Roxette does.

That’s what they did last night.

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