It’s indeed an oddity when a band considered internationally successful takes approximately 25 years between Toronto stops.
Yet such was the case Monday night at a half-full Massey Hall when Norweigan pop act a-ha made their first visit to the city since October, 1986. And sadly, as part of their global Ending On A High Note tour, it will probably be the last.
Nonetheless, the group’s sonically and visually impressive 100-minute set left many wondering why exactly that European acclaim never quite found its way across the Atlantic following 1985’s successful debut Hunting High And Low.
With a large video screen showing a montage of images as orchestral music introduced the group, a-ha opened with the bombastic piano-pop number Foot Of The Mountain, the title track from their 2009 effort. Led by 50-year-old vocalist Morten Harket, the band quickly worked their way through material in reverse chronological order with the catchy The Bandstand and guitar-driven Analogue thanks to guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy.
“Good evening Toronto!” keyboardist Magne Furuholmen – the most exuberant of the core trio – said as most of the floor remained standing, singing and dancing.
While keeping the between-song banter to a minimum, a-ha were definitely proving to fans they are going out without tarnishing their music or reputation. Whether it was on the mid-tempo Forever Not Yours or the moody ballad Summer Moved On, Harket’s pipes were solid. This was especially true during Summer Moved On when he held one high note for an almost ridiculously long time.
Following the funky but average Move To Memphis which resembled INXS-lite, a-ha went seamlessly into The Blood That Moves The Body with its distinct ‘80s pop feel. The song went over well and Furuholmen was quick to acknowledge that.
“Everybody okay?” he asked to applause and cheers. “Feel free to join in whenever there’s a groove, it’s rare in Norway.”
A good portion of the songs midway through the show seemed to evoke images of classic ‘80s pop bands such as Depeche Mode and Duran Duran as well as current piano pop acts such as Keane. The song The Living Daylights – the theme song to the 1987 James Bond film of the same name – soared thanks to a loud sing-along by the enthusiastic crowd as a visual showed a map with Toronto in a gun’s crosshairs.
Quickly slowing things down, the trio (who were rounded out by a touring drummer and keyboardist) opted for “manly instruments” during a short and sweet acoustic set featuring And You Tell Me and Early Morning.
With the homestretch becoming apparent, and the two signature singles looming, a-ha delivered the tempo-changing Manhattan Skyline, We’re Looking For The Whales and Cry Wolf from 1986’s Scoundrel Days which concluded the main set.
As a “25 Years In The Making” photo album showed the band in their early years, a-ha returned and nailed the galloping The Sun Always Shines On TV and the closing Take On Me, easily ending the evening on a high note.