I like discovering new music, or new-to-me music. And it seems every year I get obsessed with a different band (you will recall last year's Jamiroquai obsession).
Earlier this year, a co-worker turned me onto the band a-ha (the guys who had that stunning video for their 1985 single "Take On Me.")
So, in my typical fashion, I discovered their music and became obsessed with them (I don't think I'm capable of doing it any other way). I've begun the usual collection of old albums (so far, I have three out of their nine releases). However, my luck being what it is, a-ha have chosen to disband at the end of 2010. But not before treating fans to a farewell world tour. Wonder of wonders, they stopped in Chicago - specifically, the Riviera Theater - Thursday night. And what a show they put on (see pics below).
The show began with a video montage set to instrumental versions of several a-ha songs. Before long, the band bounded on stage. Lead vocalist Morten Harket, guitarist and principal songwriter, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and keyboardist, Magne Furuholmen were joined by a drummer and another keyboardist. As the band launched into "The Bandstand" from their 2009 album Foot of the Mountain, the ecstatic screams of the crowd pumped up my adrenaline. I realized how long it had been since I'd seen a concert. Likewise, I realized how much I missed the sound of 80s-style synth music. Where has this band been all my life!
Next came the title track from Mountain, an upbeat, very 80s-sounding track. Before long came one of my favorites, "Minor Earth Major Sky." I think this was the song that sparked my a-ha obsession. I listened to it one March afternoon 20 times in a row and never got tired of it. The version the band performed was completely different (more straight ahead acoustic rock vs. the vaguely hip-hop like version that appears on the album of the same name). But it still sounded excellent.
"Analogue" from the 2005 album of the same name followed the first two songs. It's a moody synth-driven number, with a soaring chorus ("Aaaaalllll, I want you to know/I love you") that is all the more endearing for its earnestness.
At this point my friend, L (the one who'd turned me onto a-ha) arrived with his fiancee (they'd been running late). He promptly started geeking out. He's been a huge a-ha fan for over 20 years, and was over the moon that they were playing in his hometown before retiring for good.
The band then slowed things down for "Summer Moved On" a truly lovely ballad from their Minor Earth Major Sky album. Morten Harket holds one looooong note midway through the song, and when he did it on this night, the crowd roared its approval.
On the title track from their 1985 debut Hunting High and Low, the crowd sang along on the lovely chorus ("Hunting high and low/AAAAAAHH/There's no end to the lengths I'll go"). Suddenly, the atmosphere inside the old movie theater felt like an outdoor festival on a warm summer evening. The guys were hardly done, though. The backing musicians exited the stage while the trio of Morten, Magne and Paul came to the front of the stage for acoustic versions of the ballads "And You Tell Me" and "Early Morning."
Then the band members left the stage and the theater grew dark, except for the big screen above the stage which showed a montage of band photos from their early days (oh, that hair!). They returned to the stage to close with "The Sun Always Shines on TV" and - of course - "Take On Me." With images of the latter's iconic video (mixing animation and live action) and those familiar swaths of keyboard, it was like being transported back 25 years to days when MTV and music videos were new things in our popular culture. Past and present met, making a-ha's goodbye seem even more bittersweet.
Below is some video of the performance - specifically, "Stay on These Roads" and a little snippet of "The Bandstand."
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
*Slightly incomplete, because you wouldn't believe how hard it is to shimmy and write down song names at the same time.