ABBA plays Vegas

On Sept. 24, 1979, the Swedish superstars played the Aladdin Performing Arts Theatre (now part of Planet Hollywood, of course). Last weekend, eight songs from that one and only Vegas show belatedly surfaced.

It’s an extraordinary document, both historically and musically. There are one or two “in house” recordings of ABBA in concert that are of decent listening quality. Most, however, are sonic abominations that make one of the world’s two most popular pop groups resemble a garage bad — and not a good one.

The Aladdin recording, however, sounds as though it was either made with very high-end equipment or run off of the sound board. It’s got a wide stereo spread that allows the listener to hear the “live” arrangements in manifold detail.

Several numbers on the ’79-80 tour were played in versions quite different from those enshrined on record, and both “Hole in Your Soul” and “Summer Night Night City” are much to be preferred as expansively heard here. The abbreviated “official” versions that are commercially available aren’t a patch on these take-no-prisoners renditions. (A Vegas-area kiddie choir gets into the act on “I Have a Dream.”) It’s further ammo for those of us in the heretical minority that believes ABBA live ≥ ABBA in studio.

Most important of all, herein lies confirmation of a contention made by ABBA chronicler Carl Magnus Palm in his Bright Lights, Dark Shadows. Palm, whose scholarship is the furthest thing from hagiography, writes that “contrary to most of their attempts in the studio, on stage ABBA really knew how to rock. Their live sound was vividly energetic and rumbling, with many extra, half-improvised piano riffs from Benny[*] and on-the-spot vocal ad-libs courtesy of Frida.

* — at a Vienna performance, he slipped the theme from The Third Man into the “Money, Money, Money” intro.

You can hear, with remarkable immediacy, the qualities Palm describes. They’re captured in these too-few Vegas tracks, culminating with the show’s double-barreled finale of “Does Your Mother Know?” and “Hole in Your Soul.” One can only hope that the other 15-odd songs on the set list were taken down with similar fidelity and will soon see the light of day.

Serendipitous timing marked the unveiling of the 1979 bootleg, since the Las Vegas Hilton spent this weekend hosting tribute band abbacadabra, comprised mostly of California- and Reno-based musicians. Most of the look of the show, in fact, was derived from the ’79 tour that played the Aladdin (though the decision to eschew a lead guitarist in favor of a second trap set was a serious mistake.)

Yes, I was there Saturday night. Bought front-row seats, in fact. And special thanks to the conscientious ticket salesperson who talked me out of springing for (more expensive) stage seats. We saved $10 and enjoyed the show not one whit less. Plus, as my girlfriend pointed out, I can now say that I shook hands with “Frida.” Not a bad way to end an evening at the LVH.

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