ABBA’s live performances have been a difficult topic almost from the beginning. With their solo performances and group activities before ABBA was formed they already toured throughout Sweden a lot and so it perhaps it’s not such a big surprise that the ABBA members always had a reluctant relationship to live performances. Especially Agnetha didn’t feel completely comfortable with touring and being on stage.
For me touring was about everything I didn’t like; too long away from the children, long journeys, changing hotels every day, time changes. Perhaps just because the whole thing was so hard, the audiences’ enthusiastic reception was a fantastic contrast and an incredible joy.
The moments when the songs, the orchestra and the audience are totally absorbed by the music are wonderful and make all the hard work and innumerable concerts in strange towns in different continents worthwhile. You forget your ego and go into another state. You convey something of yourself, but the audience also gives a lot in return.
Agnetha in As I Am, p. 86
One thing that I particularly noticed in Australia was that it makes no difference whether there are five thousand or fifty thousand in the crowd: I was still equally stressed and nervous. It seems the greater your success the greater the audiences’ expectations and impatience, while at the same time you demand more and more of yourself.
The surrounding mechanism becomes incredibly complicated, with more and more people involved, people you never get time to know or even recognise. I imagine that it would be even worse to perform before small audiences in a little bar than in front of a big crowd. It is more intimate, revealing, almost like working in close-up the whole time – where every feature and expression is seen. When you’re standing on stage in front of a huge sea of people, there’s a certain anonymity. Obviously, what helped a lot was the assurance between the four of us, the musicians and everyone else on stage.
Agnetha in As I Am, p. 75
Also, the longer ABBA was around the more there was the goal to sound live as equal as possible as on their studio recordings and even with the distance of several decades now they often describe their live versions as inferior and therefore not suitable for release.
Because of ABBA’s mixed feelings about live performances it might be consequent that ‘ABBA live’ is a neglected aspect of ABBA’s career. ABBA’s reluctant policy regarding more live material becoming available is just one aspect though. Officially published background material, photo books or even some more stories told by ABBA themselves are still rather rare. The anniversary year 2014, celebrating ABBA’s victory with Waterloo in 1974, brought some significant and long-awaited additions as until then the bonus interview on ABBA The Movie Limited Edition was one of the very few releases offering a more in-depth view on the backgrounds. However, especially the first tours (but not only those) still are badly remembered or documented. In most of the numerous ABBA biographies and photo books about the concerts are a neglected aspect as well.
This is not just sad because it doesn’t tell the full story. Looking at the databases and archives of photographers, photo agencies and TV stations one can also see how many great and interesting pictures there still are – undisplayed, unpublished. For a company like ABBA it would be easy to support publications and releases without an interest in maximum profit. The material which officially or inoffically is available shows that there isn’t much which ABBA has to feel ashamed of. But yet even essential things like the concert part of Dick Cavett meets ABBA weren’t released in full. The Wembley album or the book ABBA Backstage seemed to be good signs for a generally more relaxed feeling regarding live and tour material, but as nothing happened again since 2014 it doesn’t really look like that.
As of spring 2016 there were rumors about an upcoming 1977 live album in 2017 and also a new release of ABBA The
Movie, but neither did happen and according to the information given at the fanclub day 2018 in Stockholm a release was rejected by ABBA for the time being. It’s disappointing that the anniversaries of major ABBA events don’t get more “official” attention anymore, neither by interesting releases of original material nor by online articles or galleries or even books.
Everything in the last years was focussed on the promotion for the Voyage album and show. So it’s almost not worth mentioning that despite the 50th anniversary of ABBA in 2022 there again was no further release of any live material. To me it’s obvious that neither the ABBA members (all or some) don’t have any interest in releasing their material in a nice, complete or even “fan-friendly” way nor do the record companies care about it and jump on the cheap vinyl train instead.
The tours & concerts