A-HA: ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE (2011)
1) The Sun Always Shines On TV; 2) Move To Memphis; 3) The Blood That Moves The Body; 4) Scoundrel Days; 5) The Swing Of Things; 6) Forever Not Yours; 7) Stay On These Roads; 8) Manhattan Skyline; 9) Hunting High And Low; 10) We're Looking For The Whales; 11) Butterfly, Butterfly; 12) Crying In The Rain; 13) Minor Earth, Major Sky; 14) Summer Moved On; 15) I've Been Losing You; 16) Foot Of The Mountain; 17) Cry Wolf; 18) Analogue; 19) The Living Daylights; 20) Take On Me.
Fairly literally so: the famous high E that concludes the chorus to ʽTake On Meʼ is the last note taken on by Morten at the end of the show. Now in all fairness, this live album (available in CD as well as DVD format) is only there for the ultimate fan — approximately three quarters of the setlist are exactly the same tunes as had already been released less than a decade earlier on How Can I Sleep..., so the primary purpose here is clearly to provide documental proof of what, in 2011 at least, was presented to the public as the very, very, very last show A-Ha would ever play as A-Ha. (But set your watches up for a Silver Jubilee Reunion anyway).
The exact date of the last show was December 4, 2010, and it was reverentially played at home, at the Oslo Spektrum; the 2-CD concert includes all but two songs played that night, and it is interesting to note what was excluded: (a) ʽBowling Greenʼ, an Everley Bros. cover that they probably cut because they thought two Everley Bros. covers on one live album would seem like overkill — and how can there be an A-Ha live album without ʽCrying In The Rainʼ?; (b) ʽThe Bandstandʼ — the opening number on Foot Of The Mountain, an album they were sort of supposed to promote with that tour, but which, in the end, turned out to be represented by just the title track. Not that we should feel sorry — at the very least, it is reassuring to know that the band did not regard its last album as a masterpiece.
Anyway, the general quality of an A-Ha live show usually seems to be in direct proportion to the state of their lead singer's voice, and I see no problem here: be it the enchanted falsetto of ʽTake On Meʼ or the lengthiest-soundwave-on-Earth of ʽSummer Moves Onʼ (diversified here by adding just a tiny touch of non-irritating melisma), he remains in fine form from start to finish — one can only hope that this is indeed the end of A-Ha, and that general listeners will not have to endure the suffering as Harket's pitch inevitably deteriorates over the years à la Ian Gillan or (even worse) Art Garfunkel.
If there is a general problem with the show, it is only that the band has set itself up, in accordance with its reputation, as more of a «synth-pop» ensemble than a «rock» one — in other words, the «purification» of their image, introduced on Foot Of The Mountain, is carried over to the live show, with keyboards taking a generally more active part than guitars. This exerts a negative influence on songs like ʽMove To Memphisʼ (whose teeth-grinding funky rhythm is smothered by wishy-washy synths and limp percussion) and ʽMinor Earth, Major Skyʼ, where the cosmic-psychedelic atmosphere of the original also seems cheapened by the keyboards. Still, most of the songs performed, want it or not, are in the synth-pop aesthetics, so why complain?
The setlist, as can be seen, covers the band's entire career, leaving no stone unturned though predictably concentrating on the hits, but it is nice to see them not leaving out Analogue (alas, only the title track gets performed, but then it would have been too much to expect them sing ʽHalfway Through The Tourʼ when they are already done with the tour), and they also do ʽButterfly, Butterflyʼ, the last studio recording they released as a single — a pleasant, if not too memorable, ballad, backed by regular pianos and acoustic guitars.
I suppose that most of the fans went home fully satisfied that night, and it is only in (slight) retrospect that we realize the show is not fully representative of the band's true potential, being too heavily skewed in the ʽTake On Meʼ direction. But then there are very few people in the world in the first place who would agree to thinking of A-Ha as something more than just a sweet boy band with a digital fixation, one more gross relic of the funny hair decade, and Harket and co. may be excused for not specifically pandering for that minor subset of their fanbase. And on the whole, I really enjoyed this, so what's to stop us from one more final thumbs up?..
Check "Ending On A High Note" (CD) on Amazon