Per Gessle has started his European tour last Sunday, October 7th in Prague, Czech Republic in front of nearly 1,000 people. It’s the first time since 2009, where he hits the bumpy roads of Europe again and is going to visit 20 cities in the coming weeks.
This time he is no longer the man from Roxette as 9 years ago, the project is labelled “Per Gessle’s Roxette”. He admitted in our exclusive RoxetteBlog interview back in April that it’s a great name: “since it’s exactly what it is. This is my personal version of Roxette. I play Roxette-songs I’ve written, music that still is such a big slice of my life. In the perfect world Marie would have been by my side to sing and perform, but that won’t happen anymore. I have to live with that. You do too. The options I have are to perform the songs without her or not perform them at all. I chose the obvious one.”
When I was compiling the potential setlist predictions back in June, I was thinking this is going to be something similar to the Party Crasher tour. Back then – meaning 2009 – we still didn’t know exactly what good and bad future would bring, but we were happy to get these very personal interpretations of Roxette’s vast catalogue from Gessle. This year I truly felt coming back to Roxette music with a mix of Nashville vibes and 2017 band (big hand to new additions to the band: Andreas, Ola and Malin My) would be a fantastic way to introduce these songs in a new & exciting way. Per already tested the ground during 2017 Scandinavian concerts – several Roxette tracks were played and got ovations from the crowd generating even more unforgettable sing-a-longs.
How the setlist looks like in the end? There are some surprises, which always is a surprising thing at the Per Gessle concert, wink-wink. We actually got a track that was never performed live before though recorded 28 years ago. The Sweet Hello, The Sad Goodbye was performed by Per on the lead and Malin My & Helena doing the chorus. Gessle has always been highlighting this as a forgotten gem among other pearls from the early 90s. For understandable reasons. It also a nice way to end up the concert, instead of a worn-out Church of your heart closer. Hope it stays in the setlist as long as possible.
You might have been expecting to hear more tracks from English solo albums as it’s a solo concert after all. Well, no, not really. There was nothing off The World According To Gessle, which left many unhappy about that decision. Still, I Want You To Know could’ve found its way as a modern country version. I have a party in my head and Doesn’t make sense re-appeared in the set, which already was kind of unexpected as the latter one was never a single and I have not predicted Son of a plumber would find its way among all those Roxette tracks. There were 2 songs off Small Town Talk, though the second single, Being With You, was left out for the reasons one could only wonder. It reminds me the time when Party Crasher’s Silly really was omitted due to “being impossible to perform live”. It must have been a different thing with an accoustic song this time. Small Town Talk is my absolute highlight of the evening in which Per Gessle pairs with the band’s own Christoffer Lundquist for an amazing duet. We need more of Chris’ singing at the concert! The Finest Prize is as powerful as it was last year with Helena Josefsson taking over the second verse, so scrapping the song in Leipzig is definitely a miss.
Was the Roxette part of the setlist unexpected? Well, im Westen nichts Neues (all quite on the western front). There was The Look to start with which is a wise move as it brings everyone in this very party mood that stays throughout the concert. Then Joyride for the end with 3 lonely fan-brang balloons flying over the audience. Did they change anything in the arrangements? Very little if you ask me, but I might be deaf as well. Adding pedal steal or violin here and there is a little bit too little to say it’s been a major change.
Per Gessle performed 10 songs on his own, where e.g. “Milk and toast and honey”, “It must have been love” or “I’m glad you called” were 50:50 duets with one-of-a-kind Helena Josefsson. She is one of the most talented persons Per has worked with anyway. She was switching constantly places – from being in the back next to Malin My to the front position between Per and Magnus. And she owned both positions superbly.
What I have really mixed feeling about is actually leaving some of the most prominent tracks like “Spending my time”, “Queen of rain” or “Listen to your heart” to Helena herself. She’s a very talented singer – if I haven’t highlighted that already enough – and I absolutely adore her in many songs during the concert (“I’m glad you called” acting-game for instance), but some of Roxette arrangements weren’t particularly friendly to her voice. I feel like “Fading like a flower” in a slower arrangements doesn’t do the justice to this somewhat wonderful power ballad. If you expect Per would do all songs himself, that’s not the case this time. He is really presenting new versions of Roxette songs now; this is how he now imagines the Roxette world where Marie cannot longer perform. Does it mean female voice is essential for those songs to survive? Would Per’s interpretation be worse than Helena’s versions? How would it sound if they had replaced this with a duet? There are so many questions and so little time. You need to hear this yourself to be able to judge.
In a certain way I feel like calling this a Per Gessle concert is misleading and I do not mean anything negative here (there’s too much of that childish shit over social media now). It just doesn’t really do the justice for the concert itself. For my part it was Per Gessle AND Helena Josefsson concert with Roxette songs in the focus. Helena plays the vital role to Per’s 2018 concert as the starting riff to The Look. I really miss his versions we’ve all known from 2009 as I preferred a male narrative, it gave a totally new dimension to the lyrics and the accoustic arrangements back then were to die for. If I was to compare “Listen to your heart” anno domini 2009 to 2018, I would definitely go for the Party crasher version. But hey, it seems like – for the reasons I can only guess – this is not what works for Per any longer.
Is there a space for a change? Limited. From the Leipzig gig it seems like the band plays 2 songs less – “Silver blue” and “The Finest Prize” were kicked off the field. We might hear “Sleeping in my car” or something already performed in the past like “7twenty7”, but obviously it’s always tricky to predict the future.
This new concert is definitely not something everyone can approve. Though I have a lot of mixed feelings about the arrangements and songs picked up to perform, the audience reaction was rather positive, which makes me think this can have a future as a long-going set of different performances in clubs all over the world. Whatever works and it seems actually to work, no matter if you like it or not.
If you feel like reading more about the Prague concert, here’s the Patricia take on it.