As the recent cancellation of Woollongong’s Rewind ’80s Music Festival showed, nostalgia only goes so far when it comes to enticing audiences in the fickle world of live music.
So it came as a surprise to many — even, it would seem, tour organisers themselves — when early ’90s hitmakers Roxette’s lone, toe-in-the-water Australian concert date sold out in half an hour earlier this year.
Shows were hastily added and the Swedish duo, Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle, will now embark on a nine-date Australian arena tour in February.
“It’s surprising, but it’s been happening all over the world, so we’re on this neverending tour,” Gessle told the Star Observer from his Stockholm home.
“It’s amazing that we can still do this — when Marie got ill in 2002, the odds of continuing were not really on our side.”
Fredriksson was diagnosed with a brain tumour after a fainting spell in September 2002. The tumour was successfully surgically removed, but the singer still battles the after-effects of the health scare to this day.
“She’s not 100 percent,” Gessle said. “She lost a little bit of sight in one of her eyes, and there are certain things that have been adjusted — we don’t do concerts on the same day as we travel, because it’s too much for her.
“But [performing] has been like a fantastic rehab for Marie. Every week we go on, I see her getting more and more relaxed on stage.”
The stage door reopened for Fredriksson in 2009, when Gessle, performing a solo show in Amsterdam, invited her on stage to perform a couple of their Roxette hits.
“She was really really nervous, because she hadn’t been on stage for many years at that point, but the reception she got from the crowd — people were crying and screaming — was a big turning point.
“That positive energy and love really spurred her on, and a couple of weeks later she called me and said, ‘Hey Per, can you write the new Roxette album? I’m ready to go!’ ”
That album was last year’s Charm School. While it didn’t return them to the chart-topping highs of their golden late ’80s/early ’90s period — four number one US singles in two years was always going to be a tough act to follow — Gessle said he thought it important to offer new music to the fans, rather than delivering a golden oldies live set.
“I’ve always been a writer more than anything, and any project I’m involved with needs to be relevant, not just nostalgic.
“I respect that when you go to a concert, you want to hear your favourites. I’m the same when I go to see bands like the Rolling Stones or AC/DC. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to play new music.”
But he promised that fans who came to hear hits like The Look, Fading Like A Flower and Joyride would not leave disappointed.
“I’m so proud of the Roxette catalogue. We play to people of different ethnicities, different languages, different religions, in cities whose names I can’t even pronounce.
“And all of them are there because they love Listen To My Heart or Spending My Time or It Must Have Been Love. It’s just incredible, the power of music.”
After that run of enduring songs, Roxette’s star had waned considerably, as hits dried up and the gaps between albums grew longer in the mid-’90s.
“It’s the nature of the business that you have to die, commercially speaking, to let the next generation of artists come up. And of course the bigger you get, the harder the fall. We had almost four years where we always had a song in the hot 100 in the US.”
It helped that their commercial decline coincided with both Gessle and Fredriksson marrying and starting families.
Gessle described theirs as a “brother-sister relationship”, but acknowledged that “When you’re touring you spend more time with each other than you do with your family. There came a time when we needed a break”.
The duo are back firing on all cylinders now, with Gessle revealing that he was already midway through writing the next Roxette album.
He did admit, though, to a few teething problems in the recording studio.
“The older you get, the harder it gets to write simple pop songs. I can’t actually write sheet music, so I surround myself with musicians who can help with that. Sometimes I’ll be writing a song and one of the musicians will say, ‘Hey, you wrote this three years ago in a different key’, ” he laughed.
“But that’s pop I suppose — simplicity and three chords.”
INFO: Roxette at Rod Laver Arena, February 18, 22. Tickets through Ticketek, and at Sydney Entertainment Centre, February 16, 17. Tickets through Ticketmaster.