“We were always very reluctant pop stars,” a miserable and over-serious a-ha told the Guardian in 2009, prior to their (a-hem) “farewell tour”.
Despite millions of record sales, making a milestone of 80s pop culture in the Take on Me video and winning the praise of peers from Morrissey to Coldplay, on their later live appearances they sounded ready for the knacker’s yard.
What a difference a break makes. Perhaps because a rest is as good as a change, the twice-reunited band have recovered their enthusiasm and sound thoroughly rejuvenated. Unwilling pin-up Morten Harket looks much younger than his 56 years and the simple act of removing his aviator shades threatens to trigger a mass fainting.
There are some showbiz tricks – packs of video wolves for Cry Wolf – but mostly, this is an arena show without arena gestures. There are no inflatable dolls or requests to punch the air. Instead, with the music pitched between Duran Duran and Talk Talk, it’s stylishly, moodily haunting, punctuated only by keyboard player Magne Furuholmen’s yells of “Manchester, you’re looking dangerous” and comical “accidental” F-words. It works because the now bespectacled Harket isn’t just singing the songs beautifully, but sincerely, like he has remembered what they mean to him as well as everybody here.
Songs from comeback album Cast in Steel hold their own with the oldies and while they never had the quantity of hits of a Duran, when a-ha roll out their own whoppers the atmosphere goes through the roof. A mesmeric, acoustic Hunting High and Low is bolstered by a crowd choir. Harket stands on a monitor to deliver The Sun Always Shines on TV and Take on Me to scenes of unadulterated adult joy, by which point the grinning reluctant pop star looks as delighted as anyone that a-ha are back.
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