On April 12, 2022, I headed to Radio City Music Hall for my first concert since the pandemic began. I couldn't resist seeing a-ha, an iconic band in Europe but more of a kitschy one-hit wonder (they had two!) in the U.S., and the creators of my favorite album by any artist ever, Hunting High and Low (1985).
Having only seen them twice before — in Michigan in 1986, one of my earliest concerts, and at the Nokia in Times Square in 2010 — I had to splurge on this show, especially considering their last tour had been a false farewell tour and they would be performing that entire priceless album.
I went late and as I sat down (great aisle seat, relatively close), they strolled onstage and began playing, no fanfare at all, just ... here we are.
Oddly, they performed eight tracks, then offered an intermission. I asked and was told it was because they had no opening act, so were effectively opening for themselves. I was not exactly riveted, to be honest; while all of their material goes down easy, their opening set — which avoided Hunting High and Low in order to save that for the second act — skipped a surprising number of their Euro hits that IMO are competitive with their early, genius works. Missing were tunes like "Cry Wolf" (1986; their only semi-hit in the U.S. post-1985), "Stay on These Roads" (1988), "Move to Memphis" (1991), "Summer Moved On" (1994), "Forever Not Yours" (2002), "Foot of the Mountain" (2009) or "Shadowshide" (2009) and others.
Instead, we got "Sycamore Leaves" (1990), "The Swing of Things" (1986), the excellent "Crying in the Rain" (1990), "Forest for the Trees" (2022), "You Have What It Takes" (2022), the fab "I've Been Losing You" (1986), "Scoundrel Days" (1986) and their Bond theme "The Living Daylights" (1987) which, while its charms are lost on me, was at least a nod to the song's substantial following.
Songs I Most Missed:
Throughout this portion of the show, the ageless a-ha performed ably as lead singer Morten Harket seemed to be finding his voice, sometimes cutting notes short (but never missing them). It was also amusing to see Mags performing with zeal while Pål and particularly Morten were incredibly reserved. Morten is legendarily aloof, but it was so noticeable that after the show, the banter among stage-door sallies was goodnatured joking about him being immobile and energy-free.
It was Mags who gave a warm thank you to the crowd for supporting them 37 years after their debut album dropped, pointing out they'd last played Radio City Music Hall in 1986. Morten did speak, briefly, and as the Hunting High and Low portion of the show kicked off, when Mags apologized to "purists" for not performing it in order, Morten wisecracked, "Because we don't remember."
The second act was magic, even if you had to get used to Morten sulking around the stage, even as some of the band's most appealingly giddy numbers demanded pogo-dancing (and elicited it in the audience).
For one thing, his voice seemed to unfurl to its maximum range, and for a guy in his 60s, even if there are some artful technological innovations at play to sort of enhance what he's got, what he's got is a lot. He was effortlessly summoning the yearning vocals required by that album, a remarkable feat nearly 40 years on.
The out-of-order call was a good one, since nobody there wanted that show not to end on "Take on Me."
They settled on "Train of Thought" first, then the dramatic "Blue Sky." Probably my favorite a-ha track is "Living a Boy's Adventure Tale" — it is up there with the album's title track for its haunting, romantic bent, and his falsetto is a knife to my heart.
Next was the flirty "And You Tell Me," followed by the ebullient "Love Is Reason."
A driving "Dream Myself Alive" worked great next door to "Here I Stand and Face the Rain" (another day, this one would work so well near "Crying in the Rain").
Having reached a fever pitch, we were treated to the crowd-pleasing "Hunting High and Low," which really should have been a Top 10 hit in the U.S. So searing still, it was performed to maximum effect by Harket, who — and I believe he does this often with this song — encouraged the crowd to sing it back to him. Cracking a smile, he offered, "Pretty good," when we knew we were not, but it egged us on to do better.
The supposedly last song was "The Sun Always Shines on TV." I'm always surprised how poorly remembered this one is. It was, after all, Top 20 in the U.S. and followed hot on the heels of "Take on Me," plus it had a proper video and the album sold millions. But it is still a heart-stopping killer that sort of vibes as a lusher and more organic "Video Killed the Radio Star"-type complaint song.
A blink-and-you-missed-it exit was brought to an end by the show-ending "Take on Me," which was as sweeping and flawless as ever. It isn't hard to figure out why this song has endured, so much so that it dragged "Feel This Moment" into hitdom in 2013.
With that, the band took off. It felt very much like a forever goodbye.
Outside, I decided to hang out with the fangirls (literally, almost all women) by the stage door. Those of us who arrived first were treated worst — the staff had us in what felt like a bad spot, and wouldn't let us stand near the door because the spot extended into the street and traffic. The entire stage was broken down before Pål emerged, and sure enough, he ignored us and interacted only briefly with fans closer to his car.
Mags was next and was much, much warmer. He spent several minutes taking selfies and signing for fans, though I was a bit too far away to get to him before cops were asking people to get across the street (also saw one cop going ape on a driver who dared to honk, threatening a citation).
At that point, their tour manager told everyone Morten had left "straight after the show," but many didn't hear this, so lingered, hoping the shyest a-ha member would miraculously appear and grant selfies.
Never happened, but the show was still a pleasure. I wish they would consider touring again — they have a new album coming called True North, and are already enjoying some accolades for the film of the same name, which is said to explore the ups and downs of being in the long-lasting band.
I so wish I had wonderful photos and videos, but my amazing point-and-shoot died a couple of years ago, and iPhone just is not good with zoom. But I tried!
Thank you for your review of the show. I agree with what you wrote about Morten and being so reserved and at times aloof. Mags is defiant the more social one so to speak. It is unfortunate that they did not perform Cry Wolf, Stay on These Roads and my personal favorite, Foot of the Mountain. Despite that I look forward to seeing them in July.
OMG! Hunting High and Low is my favorite album too. And we both love the same song.
I just saw them at the Oxbow Stage in Napa (and I wrote a review) and it was a GREAT show. And we got one more song than you, which seems odd (but I”m not complaining). Plus the Hunting High and Low album in track order (mostly).
The Swing of Things
Crying in the Rain
You Have What It Takes
Train of Thought
Hunting High and Low
The Blue Sky
Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale
The Sun Always Shines on T.V.
And You Tell Me
Love Is Reason
I Dream Myself Alive
Here I Stand and Face the Rain
The Blood That Moves the Body
We’re Looking for the Whales
I’ve Been Losing You
The Living Daylights
Take On Me