A-ha — the Norwegian trio who took the global pop charts by storm in 1985 — recently returned to the United States for rare concert performances. The four sold-out concerts, including one at Radio City Music Hall in New York City this week, drew ardent admirers ready to sing along to each and every hit by the three now stately men, who demonstrated their ample power to capture hearts and to compel bodies to dance.
Although A-ha were in New York to celebrate their debut album Hunting High and Low — and celebrate it they did by performing the record’s 10 original tracks to end the show — one of the most remarkable moments in the concert occurred early thanks to a new song.
In October, A-ha will release True North, their 11th studio album, and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (guitars), Magne Furuholmen (keyboards and guitars), and Morten Harket (vocals) played two songs from the new album at Radio City on April 12. The band struck a somber note for “You Have What It Takes,” a love song sharing belief in a friend or a lover, and it sounded beautiful and wistful in the 6,000-seat theatre. But the most striking thing about the song was that many of those 6,000 people in attendance vocalized softly to the song — a song many had never yet heard but with which seemed to instantly connect — and held their smartphone flashlights aloft as if they were old-school cigarette lighters. The sincerity and magnificence of the moment were breathtaking in their grandeur, particularly inside the already elegant Radio City Music Hall, and the assembled concertgoers left no doubt that they were truly there for the occasion.
In addition to the charming new songs — “You Have What It Takes” and “Forest for the Trees” — A-ha thrilled with acknowledgment of their impressive sophomore album, Scoundrel Days. Although more sophisticated and complex than their first record, the songs were no less absorbing and exhilarating and remained so in live performance. A-ha performed the title track toward the end of their first set and the recriminating soliloquy “Swing of Things” early in the set. Hearing both numbers generated the sort of euphoria I experienced as a 16-year-old teen trying to tape my favorite songs for a mix to cassette by hovering over the portable radio with a recorder. (It was a shame however to miss the opportunity to present “Manhattan Skyline” again in NYC, but thankfully at least I caught a performance of the song during their last Manhattan concert in 2010.)
As formidable as the first set proved so far, the piece de resistance came at the end with the trio’s staging of “The Living Daylights” from the James Bond film of the same name and their melancholy third album, Stay on These Roads. “The Living Daylights” is a stirring triumph, which seized listeners suddenly and didn’t let go once the beat dropped. Morten, Magne, and Paul gave it an appropriately dramatic rendering, and everyone in the house was on their feet for it.
Watch A-ha perform “The Living Daylights” live for MTV Unplugged in 2017 on YouTube:
After an intermission, A-ha returned to the stage to play Hunting High and Low in its entirety but not in tracklist order. This was largely of course because they had to save “Take on Me,” the first track on the album, for last because the worldwide No. 1 hit was the most anticipated song of the evening.
Magne explained that some of the songs of Hunting High and Low would be “demo” versions, which gave the band freedom to play softer, stripped-back renditions. A-ha began the second set with “Train of Thought,” which Paul imbued with a pleasing samba character with his majestic guitar work.
As the show raced toward the end, Morten invited the audience to sing along to “Hunting High and Low,” which they did with hushed respectfulness. Struck by the emotion of the crowd, Morten caught his breath and said, “Pretty good!” in response to the crowd harmonizing. In that moment, Morten’s magnetism was in full evidence as you could feel the entire theater glow and crush on the man in reaction to his gentle praise.
As A-ha closed the show, the gents performed “The Sun Always Shines on TV,” the composition whose stealth brilliance has steadily made it one of the most lauded new wave songs of the ’80s. In A-ha’s capable hands, the song rose to be a classic yet, and it was exciting to hear it live again. Can you live inside a song, at least momentarily? “The Sun Always Shines on TV” with its finely worded message and stunning melody made an argument that a song can in fact transport you to another place.
Watch the official music video for “The Sun Always Shines on TV” by A-ha on YouTube:
After the second set, A-ha took to the stage for a one-song encore — the phenomenal “Take on Me.” The crowd *roared* its approval. All three A-ha principals pooled their collective talents for this high — Magne kinetic on keyboards, Morten’s full voice persuasively coaxing, Paul resplendent on guitar. The band delivered a tour de force that justified the song’s roughly 1.5 billion views on YouTube.
Earlier in the show, Magne noted that it had been 36 years since the first and only other time the band played Radio City Music Hall. He asserted the band had to earn the right to be there that night — that second-ever performance in the venue — and that they were humbled to be given the opportunity with the night’s sold-out capacity crowd. A-ha more than rose the to the occasion, and they more than justified their triumphant return to Radio City.
A-ha resume touring Hunting High and Low in Europe at the end of the month, and in a nice surprise return to California for two more dates over the summer — July 29 at Oxbow Stage in Napa and July 31 at Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Americans, make a date to see your favorite Scandinavian heartthrobs, as they so rarely visit the United States in the 21st Century! You won’t be disappointed.