Onsdag 6.november 2019
a-ha’s current «Hunting High and Low Live» tour has been extended into 2020, ending with two concerts at Oslo Spektrum next November (they also visit Bodø and Trondheim in February). We took the opportunity to see them a year in advance, at the sold out Brighton Centre in England.
Joining Morten Harket, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen on stage were the energetic Karl Oluf Wennerberg (drums), Even Ormestad (bass) and «the goth in the band» Erik Ljunggren (synth/programming). Visually, a-ha have stepped things up several notches and the show is simply stunning to watch. Norwegian director Knut A. Helgeland has done a fine job and seems to know a-ha’s history well, blending references to their videos, such as the mannequins in «The Sun Always Shines on TV», with artistic impressions of Norwegian landscapes.
It was a seated venue but the crowd stood up from the beginning of the two-set show and remained that way. The introduction was the Michael Patterson «Commuter» animation from the band’s «Train of Thought» video (which predated his work on the ground-breaking «Take on Me» video). The first set was based on their ten-track «Hunting High and Low» album, played in running order of the original release. «Take on Me», the iconic song a-ha are best known for, was the first song. Best known for – not actually their best. They have a library full of deeper, philosophical, rockier material. «Train of Thought» followed, a song full of existential angst and influenced by the authors and poets Gunvor Hofmo, Knut Hamsun and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
«Hunting High and Low» was next. Harket, who is typically understated and modest on stage, encouraged the crowd to sing acapella by repeatedly raising his arms. It worked. Several more highlights of the album followed, including «Blue Sky» and the hit «The Sun Always Shines on TV». The first set ended with an alternative version of “Dream Myself Alive”, which sounded like the original demo version and an intense, dramatic performance of «Here I Stand and Face the Rain». The latter half of the song was one of the most powerful moments of the concert. Harket’s rising, repetitive falsetto vocals soared. Furuholmen appeared to be lost in the music as he pounded the keyboards, with Waaktaar-Savoy standing beside him.
The second half featured another ten songs (from the albums Scoundrel Days, Stay on These Roads, Analogue, East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Foot of the Mountain), starting with «Analogue», then «Foot of the Mountain» and «The Swing of Things». Harket sang «The Swing of Things» with passion and Waaktaar-Savoy also played a long guitar solo, which gave him a well deserved spotlight. a-ha always works best live when Waaktaar-Savoy turns up the rock guitar. Several more of their rock songs followed, including «Sycamore Leaves» and «I’ve Been Losing You».
A surprise was a new song «Digital River», written by Waaktaar-Savoy. It is from the writing sessions for 2015’s Cast In Steel album, but didn’t make it onto the record. Furuholmen asked the crowd to use their mobile phones to create a sea of lights throughout the venue. More visual beauty. The last song before the encore was «Stay on These Roads» which showcased Harket’s vocals and inspired an emotional response from the crowd. The two song encore began with the classic «Scoundrel Days» (a definite contender for their best song, not «Take on Me»!) and concluded with the crowd pleasing «The Living Daylights», complete with another crowd sing-a-long.
It was obvious that the band are enjoying playing live again, something that seemed to be missing from their previous tour. An excellent setlist showcasing the band’s depth and history, perfectionist live musicians, stunning visuals and the return of passion, understated but real, from the band. The Boys Are Back in Town. 5.5/6
Tekst og foto: Anne-Marie Forker