Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Nation: Ace of Base Concert Review

Vancouver is a town notorious for having some of the least animated concert crowds. A friend went to Beck’s December 2002 performance and even he was disgusted by our collective behaviour, intoning sarcastically, “uh, this is the last song of the night, you can get up and dance, if you want to.”

Thankfully, there was no such sign at the Ace of Base-headlined Outgames Closing Party this past Saturday. There was only The Sign.

The show took place at the Plaza of Nations, located at 750 Pacific Boulevard in downtown Vancouver, across the street from BC Place Stadium, which non-locals will recognize from the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Plaza is an open-air square and concert space, the sort of piazza that one expects for outdoor performances in Europe and the American East Coast but is curiously missing from the West Coast, despite the fact that there’s a lot more land to build. The Plaza is also home to Gossip Nightclub, a fun straight bar that occasionally attracts a good cross-sectional demographic. It’s also the site of the Edgewater Casino and is located directly from the visually stunning Olympic Village housing development across False Creek. The mixture of fiberglass-and-steel structures, offset by the iconic stadium and pleasure cruises and yachts swanning along False Creek, made for a perfect outdoor concert.

The crowd at the Ace of Base show was surprisingly more hetero-friendly than one would expect. Since it’s well-known that nostalgic pop music concerts cater to a predominantly gay audience, it’s always a bit surprising to find throngs of straight girls and a few of their boyfriends at an event like this. Nevertheless, the beautiful thing about Vancouver is that increasingly, people look beyond the “labels” attached to gay-dominant events and bring out locals from different social groups, all in the name of partying. I worked the ticket booth at the event and saw first-hand the crowd heading into the venue. Everyone was in for a good time and the band did not disappoint.

Taking the stage at about 9:15, half an hour past the published set time (due to many other acts that preceded it that day), Ace of Base did not waste time kicking the show into high gear by launching right into their behemoth hit single “The Sign” and the crowds rushed through to get as close to the stage as possible, singing along at the top of their lungs. Despite not having the Berggren sisters to sing the vocals, the male bandmates Jonas and Ulf (who founded the band in 1990) were on hand to perform. Ace of Base made the smart decision of hiring two young new female singers, Clara Hagman and Julia Williamson, who were distinguished themselves as powerful vocalists. There wasn’t a lot of stage banter, and the band themselves admitted that due to the competing Festival of Light that was scheduled to start at 10:15, they only had an hour to play. Nevertheless, they ripped through their set list with gusto and economy but didn’t make the show feel rushed, only too short.

All the hits were present here: “All That She Wants”, “Cruel Summer”, “Happy Nation”, “Lucky Love” and “Never Gonna Say I’m Sorry”. The biggest surprise was an unexpectedly acoustic “Don’t Turn Around”, which lent the song an unexpected gravitas and sadness that surpassed the original version (which I never liked). They also premiered a new single, “Blah Blah Blah (On the Radio)”, which was unfamiliar to a lot of us but was met with appreciation and the crowd still got into it. Ace of Base know how to charm a crowd, given that the people in the front brought chairs and pretty much were mid-level between the ground and the stage and the singers came to sing and even dance with them.
It’s perfect that “Beautiful Life” would be the closing number, which the band absolutely made into mincemeat. With the It Gets Better and NOH8 campaigns being so successful and growing stronger every day, and the fact that they were playing a major Pride event, the song is an anthem to just how beautiful life could be. The show ended literally with fireworks: no sooner had they took a bow that the glow of the fireworks started to fill the night sky, ending off the evening. It was everything you wanted a summer concert to be: no belligerent behaviour, people cleaned up after themselves, and the weather was warm but tempered by the cool water nearby, turning it into a giant dance party. For an evening, we were gathered as a happy nation under the powers of pop music. It’s a beautiful life, indeed.