On 18th January it was announced that 80s stars a-ha would play a one-off concert at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London on 2nd February, with tickets going on sale on 20th January. Within two days the concert was sold out. It was the first time we had ever been to the Shepherds Bush Empire, and even though it only holds 2000 people, it was a great at giving you that 'up close and personal' feel. The Empire has a standing area in front of the stage, and there are also three balconies with seats. All the tickets were general admission (no seat reservations), so we decided to go for the standing area.
A new band called Protocol (who released their debut single Where's The Pleasure? in January) supported a-ha and they were absolutely fantastic, and the lead singer certainly had some energy. The venue is not one of the warmest places we have been to, but they certainly got some heat flowing through the crowd with their set. We really wish them well and hope they are a huge success.
By 8.45pm the tones of Celice (from their latest album Analogue) starting coming through the speakers and anticipation in the audience rose quite considerably, then all three original members of a-ha bound on the stage and launched into the song. Move To Memphis followed, Magne thanked the crowd, saying that it was great to be back, and then a new rockier version of Stay On These Roads followed. Cosy Prisons was next up, which was so good, and when they started to perform Manhattan Skyline, the crowd started to sing along from the very start.
The ever beautiful songs Keeper Of The Flame and Hunting High & Low followed, but it was their first global hit Take On Me that was one of the entertaining highlights. Everyone was with the band on this one, singing along at the top of their voices, and Magne decided to join in and sung one of the high notes. Lead vocalist Morten Harkett showed him how it was really done and hit a perfect high note. There was a dud note from the keyboard during this song and Magne said afterwards that any mistakes played through the keyboard part were strictly intentional!
They slowed the set down with Crying In The Rain (the first of two back-to-back songs from 1990's East of The Sun, West of The Moon), and then Magne introduced the backing band before launching into I Call Your Name, which was such a rousing version. By the time we reached I've Been Losing You, the audience had really warmed up their vocal chords and sang along. We especially like this live version, as they have reintroduced the instrumental part at the end of the song, which we think really makes it stand out as a live track. Morten then said that the next track was what got the band back together, and Summer Moved On followed, yet again Morten hit that long note perfectly. With The Living Daylights it was time for the crowd to use their vocal chords once more, and this time they really raised the Shepherds Bush Empire's roof. The band left the stage, with the crowd still singing along to The Living Daylights, but we didn't have to wait too long before they returned to the stage and launched into Analogue. Every time we hear this song live, it gets better and better, and this time round it seemed to have more bass to it.
Birthright was next, and to us this was the song of the night. This was done acoustically with both Pal and Magne on acoustic guitar. The whole band gelled so well together during this track, and Morten sung this flawlessly; his vocals couldn't have been better. The album version always sends chills down our spines, but the live version was out of this world. And then if that wasn't enough, they performed White Dwarf acoustically as well. This is another gentle track and you could have heard a pin drop during this performance.
The next highlight of the night was The Sun Always Shines on TV. Morten started to sing the beginning of the song with little instrumental backing, and was getting the audience to participate. Then he went quiet and the song just exploded into a crescendo of sound and picked up the tempo quite considerably, which got everyone jumping. To us, this was the best version we have ever heard of this track. At the end Magne said that the show was a little longer because we were a great crowd and he thanked us again for bringing them back to the UK. They then ended the set with Dark Is The Night, and the final high spot of the evening was when they all got together at the end, but instead of bowing to the audience they actually curtseyed and then Magne's parting words were "Because we're ladies!" (taken from the UK comedy show Little Britain). The crowd roared with laughter, and then the lights came up and signaled the end of a perfect concert.
This was a fantastic show. They all thoroughly enjoyed themselves on stage that night, and it was good to see. The crowd loved them, and they loved the crowd back. We always feel that it is these smaller venues that bring out the best in a band and their audience, so we hope that we can see a-ha in similar venues in the near future.
Karen Johnson and Geraldine Thacker
Photos: Karen and Geraldine
A different version of this review appeared in Headlines & Deadlines, a-ha fanclub magazine, London. For further details email firstname.lastname@example.org