a-ha at the Open R Festival
a-ha: Uelzen 10 August 2018
Travelling home from a-ha’s unplugged gig in London in February, I couldn’t help but feel that, enjoyable as the show was, 90 minutes was too long to be so subdued, particularly for a venue the size of the o2.
The changing of the seasons brought a changing of the instruments - goodbye acoustic winter, hello electric summer - the synths were back.
Summer also brought a change of scenery, with the band playing outdoor festivals across the UK and other parts of Europe, including the sleepy town of Uelzen, Germany – population 33,000.*
Personalities and egos haven’t changed much though, with Pål and Mags retaining a respectful distance throughout. In fact, Mags was relatively subdued by his usual standards, but surprisingly, Morten occasionally filled the void – managing a few chirps, smiles and self-deprecating remarks.
It was refreshing to see the band in a relatively small setting – there were no TV screens, no delay speakers and despite the storms the day before, the weather was calm. So was the audience. A little too calm, especially during the first half of the show, which was strange given how enthusiastically they'd received the support act Michael Patrick Kelly. To introduce The Foot Of The Mountain – a song that reached #3 in the German charts in 2009 and was the theme tune for the World Championship Athletics in Berlin later that year – Mags said “Let's see if you recognise this one”. Apart from a few diehards at the front, I’m not convinced anyone did.
Having complained at the quietness of Pål’s guitar during the acoustic shows, here it was occasionally too loud or too clunky, particularly on Minor Earth, Major Sky. Overall though, with the array of musicians maintained from the acoustic tour, the arrangements were lush and the vocal harmonies rich. This didn’t always work. Manhattan Skyline still lacked the punch that was missing in the unplugged shows and Analogue suffered from too much synthesised whirring and fizz in the background. And I missed the proper piano from previous tours.
Interesting though it was to hear a live rendition true to the original demo of Train Of Thought, the reworked chorus that appeared on the album release with its long “thoughts” and “corridooooooors” is far superior and it would have been nice to hear a blend of both versions.
But there’s no arguing with the power of Crying In The Rain, Scoundrel Days and singalongs Hunting High And Low and The Living Daylights - even if Morten sings in keys far too high for this reviewer to join in without ruining the experience for everyone around him. Some notes were occasionally too high for the man himself as well, most noticeably on Take On Me where Morten had to find creative ways of reaching "a day or twooooooo". By then though, no one cared, with the crowd revelling in the one song they all definitely knew.
Highlight of the night: Scoundrel Days – worried this song would be omitted, it made a great opener to the encore.
Gripe of the night: Tall chap standing in front just as the show started. Why me? Thankfully he moved back after 20 minutes, after filming the first few songs. If the movies ever appear on YouTube I might be more appreciative, but I wasn't in a happy mood at the time.
*A lively night on the town post-gig has led me to revise that opinion.