The last night of a-ha‘s three-show stand at a packed Nokia Theater on Saturday night (May 8) was an especially bittersweet goodbye for U.S. fans.
The Norwegian pop stars’ Ending on a High Note tour is limited U.S. run of a handful of cities, and while it’s the first time the band has performed here in more than 20 years, it is also a farewell tour: a-aha is bidding the world adieu after a 25-year career. The show didn’t just thank the thirty- and forty- somethings who have been doggedly tracking the trio online: It was a reminder of what the crowd had been missing live, thanks to limited promotion and a rather unfair one-hit wonder tag.
Despite the momentous worldwide lift-off of 1985 debut album “Hunting High and Low,” bearer of the ’80s hit “Take on Me,” a-ha dropped from America’s radar after follow-up album “Scoundrel Days.” While the cultural lexicon cast the band as forgettable pretty boys, keyboardist Magne Furuholmen, guitarist Paul Waaktaar (now Paul Waaktaar-Savoy) and singer Morten Harket remained productive on the other side of the pond, refining their brand of elegant adult contemporary pop and sophisticated melodies through subsequent recordings.
A-ha’s Saturday set started off strong with white-picket fence tale “Foot of a Mountain” and kept warming up by degrees along with the room. For nearly two hours, backed by a drummer and second keyboardist, the band kept up the heat without breaking a sweat in their dress shirts and ties. Lady Gaga devotees would be shocked to see a-ha holding the audience in thrall with a stage void of props, save for a video screen that opened the concert with a montage black-and white videos.
Instead of the focus being strictly on Harket-whose enviable falsetto was well-intact-Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmen were positioned to the front of the stage, giving you three frontmen instead of one. As a unit, Furuholmen was the most outgoing while Harket and Waaktar-Savoy were more reserved, letting the keyboardist handle most of the in-between song patter. “The Bandstand” was the right choice for the second number: a smart, dance-rock pleaser heavy on the drum beats and keys, followed by equally raucous “All I Want” and heartache track “Forever Not Yours.”
A-ha traversed the full range of its catalog by pulling out the dramatic stops with “Scoundrel Days” and “Stay on These Roads,” sticking closely to their original productions and keeping the night evenly paced. After the midtempo “The Swing of Things,” the band softened the mood with whimsical “And You Tell Me” (amusingly accompanied by Furuholmen’s mini zylophone) and ruminative “Early Morning” before jumping into the uber poppy “Looking for the Whales.” “Move to Memphis,” “I’ve Been Losing You” and crowd-singalong “The Living Daylights,” the theme for 1987 James Bond film, showed into a-ha’s rock personality to good effect, letting Waaktaar-Savoy loosen up on guitar, while fans of its caffeinated synth pop were treated to “The Blood That Moves the Body” and “Cry Wolf.”
Originally recorded with a note that Harket sustains for more than 20 seconds, Harkey nailed “Summer Moved On” while maintaining his remarkable pitch without a strain. And the sentiment of melancholy farewell “Manhattan Skyline” was clearly felt-singing along to the lyric “Now I must wave goodbye,” crowd and band alike waved at each other from across the room.
Epic track “The Sun Always Shines on TV” and the gentler “Hunting High and Low” preceded the inevitable final encore of “Take on Me,” the crowd eating up every lick of Furuholmen’s keyboards in the frenzy of the last song. All three tracks from the “Hunting High and Low” album still sounded remarkably fresh, yet for the last 20 minutes the room was gleefully transported back to 1985. The States may have only awarded a-ha 15 minutes of fame back in the day, but apparently that was all the group needed to win over some U.S. fans for a lifetime.