Since their MTV popularity waned in the late 80’s (many American fans will remember their stunning video for 1985’s “Take On Me”), Norwegian electro-pop trio a-ha have continued to record albums (nine in all) and tour extensively. Now, 25 years on from the release of their debut album, Hunting High and Low, lead vocalist Morten Harket, guitarist and principal songwriter, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and keyboardist, Magne Furuholmen will disband at the end of the year. But first they are treating fans around the world to a farewell tour, titled – appropriately enough – “Ending on a High Note.”
The US leg of the tour brought a-ha to Chicago’s Riviera Theater Thursday night, fresh from a successful three-night stand at New York City’s Nokia Theater. This was the band’s first appearance at a Chicago venue since their 1986 world tour, and one of only a handful of US dates on this tour. Local a-ha fans – most of whom looked to be in their mid-30s – filled the old-fashioned movie theater quickly, and at 7:36 p.m., the trio along with a drummer and second keyboardist bounded on stage to rapturous screams.
The set began with a lively version of “The Bandstand” off their 2009 album, Foot of the Mountain. Upon its release, the album was billed as a return to the band’s synth-laden, ’80s roots; and “Bandstand”, with its earthy keyboard riff and martial drumbeat would seem to confirm this. Likewise, Mountain’s title track – which followed in this set – has the feel of a brightly colored 80’s indie romp in the vein of Joshua Tree-era U2.
A-ha had gone on hiatus for seven years in the mid-90s, reuniting in 1998 to record what would become their sixth studio album, 2000’s well received Minor Earth Major Sky. Here, that album’s title track saw its original hip-hop beat stripped down so that the song became a shimmering acoustic number. On the lush ballad “Summer Moved On”, Harket proved his vocal edge has not dulled at all, holding one especially long and high note for what seemed like ages. To this the crowd responded with even more ecstatic screams. And those were just beginning.
As the band reached further back into its catalogue for “The Living Daylights” and “Hunting High and Low”, the crowd lustily sang the choruses. Suddenly, as the music quieted and the crowd sang on its own, the event took on the feel of an outdoor festival.
The show began to wind down with the three band members gathered at the front of the stage for dream-like acoustic renditions of “And You Tell Me” and “Early Morning”. The band stepped off stage briefly and fans were treated to a big-screen photo book featuring pictures of a-ha through the years, cheering loudest when images of the band in ’80s-era garb appeared.
Returning to the stage, band set about closing the show with its two biggest hits. The shiny New Wave of “The Sun Always Shines on TV” managed to conjure nostalgia while still sounding fresh. Screams of instant recognition greeted the insistent drumming and hard-to-resist keyboards of “Take On Me”. As the band charge through the song, the giant screen behind the band threw up images of the song’s iconic music video. A sea of hands were raised and moving side to side in time with the song. The surreal scene seemed to be taking place both in the past and present. As far as goodbyes go, this one was more sweet than bitter.
Foot of the Mountain
Minor Earth Major Sky
Summer Moved On
Move to Memphis
Stay on These Roads
And You Tell Me
Hunting High and Low
The Swing of Things
The Sun Always Shines on TV
Take On Me