They’re playing their 1985 debut album, Hunting High and Low, in order. It’s sold more than 10 million copies, with the first track tonight, Take On Me, one of the bestselling singles of all time.
The song is instantly recognisable from Magne Furuholmen’s stabby synth riff, but it began life as a difficult child pulled this way and that during their years as impoverished musicians in London, and even before that as a garage band in Oslo. The prog-lovers must have experienced some serious cognitive dissonance by experimentally altering their course and finding themselves with a global pop hit, but here we are, many millions of units later.
Actually, while the videos released for the band’s debut album cemented them as teen idols, Hunting High and Low is a layered, symphonic affair, as much grounded in classical theory as very-’80s glacial synth tones (there should be a ban on using “glacial” to describe Norwegian bands, but A-ha leave one with no choice).
Morten Harket’s pop-opera falsetto has not been battered by time, making the fast-paced live show particularly exhilarating. He may remain in a bubble of Morten for most of the set, but there are times – such as during the dramatic title track, which disintegrates into a thrilling acoustic breakdown – that he engages the crowd to rousing effect.
Generally, it’s Furuholmen who does the niceties though, such as when he introduces a demo version of I Dream Myself Alive with a wry: “I always liked hearing songs the way they were on the record … but that’s not what you’re going to hear.” Equally off-script are the moments of slide guitar and blues riffs, led by Paul Waaktaar-Savoy.
Now, how to solve the conundrum of closing a set of an album that clustered the singles up front? A-ha add Stay on These Roads, a hit from their third studio LP, and encore with their James Bond theme, The Living Daylights. It’s an ecstatic finish; not an unspilled plastic cup in the house.
The lack of interaction between the three original members is not unusual for a band almost four decades in, but as a group, A-ha have clearly committed to preserving a legacy that must not be tarnished by retro-frippery. Mission accomplished.