Live Music + Gig Reviews

a-ha @ Roundhouse, London

24 July 2009



At least some of the packed-in audience at a-ha‘s gig tonight were there to see if Morten Harket still had the Smash Hits looks, let alone the swooping-soaring eagle voice. As part of the free, month-long iTunes festival this acted as a prelude to the Norwegian trio’s arena shows later in the year. And it was soon clear the cheekbones were intact and when the first “Touch me!” of The Sun Always Shines On TV rang out. Maybe it is just the Scandinavian climate, but then again maybe Harket has a painting of himself in his attic. He’s approaching his 50th birthday, but he could pass for 15 years younger.

The voice, alas, wasn’t quite there, at least initially; it took a few songs until he hit his stride. Perhaps wisely, Mags, Paul (n Pl) and Morten largely avoided the new album, and went straight for The Hits. Other ’80s artists like to fiddle about with their heritage (hello, Madonna), but a-ha played their hits in a straightforward, jugular manner, save for a ballad-laden interlude which included Hunting High And Low, the point at which it was clear the voice was still able to hunt high and low across the octaves.

That doesn’t mean that they totally forgot to mention the our-new-album-out-on-Monday at all, and a particular highlight was title track Foot Of The Mountain. Owing an obvious debt to Coldplay, a band who owe an obvious debt to a-ha, it’s a brisk, muscular song that hits all the right anthemic notes.

Visually the band were, if anything, rather boring. Mags tried to get us going, Paul said nothing, and Morten sang, albeit in a gorgeous semi rock God type pose. The festival’s visuals behind the band would have been obvious even to Helen Keller. A picture of the skyline of Manhattan heralded the start of Manhattan Skyline, a frankly bonkers two songs in one affair, and a huge personal guilty pleasure.

A perfunctory set played all the right songs, but not all of them were in the right places. Not-particulary-popular Bond theme The Living Daylights is a great song but should never finish a set. And Train Of Thought is a bit too dull to be in an encore.

But there was still the song most of this audience had come to see, the song which, a quarter of a century ago, announced a-ha as pop talent writ large and sharp-cheeked. A triumphant Take On Me polished off the evening; hen party girls got on their feet, the gays sang loudly and the rest of the audience pretended they didn’t know the words. Afterwards we all stepped out into the Camden evening together, smiling, although not knowing quite why.

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More on a-ha
a-ha – True North
a-ha’s True North movie is a letter from their dramatic homeland, with a serious message
One For Keeps: a-ha – Hunting High And Low
a-ha @ O2 Arena, London
a-ha @ Royal Albert Hall, London