Posts Tagged ‘a-ha’

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Ending On A High Note

a-ha and Ray Materick at Massey Hall in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI’ve taken a bit of ribbing in the last while about not only attending Monday night’s a-ha show at Massey Hall, but for being excited about it. Which is sort of fair, I suppose, as the Norwegian trio largely fell off the North American radar around 1987, despite not only maintaining but growing a massive fanbase worldwide over the past two decades plus. But those who assumed the band had been creatively fallow since Hunting High And Low – or even no longer in existence – not only missed out on 25 years or so of great pop music, but by ignoring the Toronto stop on the band’s farewell tour, an amazing show as well.

I can’t pretend that I’ve kept up with a-ha in all that time. Their first three albums or so were staples of my youth, thanks to my older brother’s music collection, but circa 1990’s East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon, grunge/alternative broke out and there was little room in this 15-year old’s world for sophisticated Euro-pop. Even so, I’ve always had a soft spot for them, gave new singles a listen whenever they crossed my path and taken notice if they made any sort of news – as they did when they announced last Fall that they would split up after a final world tour that would cover most of 2010. And when Toronto was listed as one of the four North American cities and seven shows on this continent in total to host one of these farewell shows, I decided I kind of had to be there. Which brings us to Monday.

If you’ve ever wondered what 24 years of pent-up demand felt like – that’s how long it had been since a-ha’s last and only visit to Toronto – then Massey, where that show also happened, was the place to be. I would imagine that anyone who only knew them as “that band with that song and that video” was elsewhere on this evening (or else had too much disposable income) because while the theatre wasn’t quite sold out – I wager there were a couple hundred of the less choice seats vacant – but the buzz of anticipation from the other couple thousand plus in attendance more than made up for the empty seats.

When the lights dimmed for the start of the show, anticipation turned into confusion as the opener was introduced as Hamilton folksinger Ray Materick, who had a few radio hits back in the ’70s. His appearance was not without context, as this piece in eye explains, but it was an odd pairing to say the least. While Materick delivered a short set of his material new and old, the audience managed to stay on the right side of polite while not really paying much attention. Which is probably all that could have been expected.

“Polite” wouldn’t be the word to describe the atmosphere when the house lights dimmed a second time and the giant video screen that served as backdrop to the otherwise bare-bones stage setup began playing a montage of sweeping abstract visuals – “madness” might be more accurate. And “madness squared” for when the visuals resolved into a giant “2010” and the band strode onto a Toronto stage for the first time in almost a quarter century. Not that you could necessarily tell that much time had elapsed by looking at them – though all around 50 years of age, they all looked remarkably well-kept and youthful. But they weren’t here just to act as testaments to the benefits of nordic living; they were here to put on a show.

And with the title track of their latest (last) album Foot Of The Mountain, they began a backwards journey through their discography that was clearly designed to remind to deliver maximum hit value while serving to remind that they were writing solid songs to the very end. It didn’t take them even an hour to blow through the ’00s and ’90s, highlighted by “Summer Moved On” from 2000’s Minor Earth Major Sky wherein Morten Harkett proved he had lost not iota of range or power from his voice over the years, hitting and holding the high notes for an absurdly long time. The sweeping “Stay On These Roads” and “The Living Daylights”, backed by Bond-ian visuals, marked the start of the golden age portion of their set and immediately shifted gears for a two-song, acoustic break of “And You Tell Me” and “Early Morning”. They spent the remainder of the main set with their first two records, Scoundrel Days and Hunting High & Low, including stellar readings of “Manhattan Skyline” and “I’ve Been Losing You”. When they walked off stage following “Cry Wolf”, no one believed for a millisecond they weren’t coming back, and following an extended video montage of stills and photos from the band’s earliest days, they returned for a soaring “The Sun Always Shines On TV” and “Hunting High & Low”, and after one final encore, it was “Take On Me” and the end.

From start to finish, the trio – backed by a drummer and keyboardist/bassist – put on a nearly perfect performance, striking the right balance of slickness and honesty, not unlike their music. Though this was a farewell tour, there was no sense of sadness or regret to be found – more than anything, the prevailing emotion was pride in a body of work assembled over a career any artist should be envious of and a sincere appreciation for the fans who stood steadfast by them, even though they were more or less neglected since the start of the ’90s. If North America had some appreciation for adult contemporary-ish pop music that wasn’t r&b-based or just pap, a-ha might well have been the stars here that they were in the rest of the world. But as it was, we just got this one final opportunity to say hello and goodbye and were grateful for it.

The Toronto Sun also has a review of the show and The National Post Chicago Sun-Times have interviews with guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy. a-ha’s first two albums will be reissued in double-CD expanded form on June 28 by Rhino.

Photos: a-ha, Ray Materick @ Massey Hall – May 10, 2010
Video: a-ha – “Shadowside”
Video: a-ha – “Nothing Is Keeping You Here”
Video: a-ha – “Foot Of The Mountain”
Video: a-ha – “Cosy Prisons”
Video: a-ha – “Analogue”
Video: a-ha – “Celice”
Video: a-ha – “Lifelines”
Video: a-ha – “Forever Not Yours”
Video: a-ha – “I Wish I Cared”
Video: a-ha – “Velvet”
Video: a-ha – “Minor Earth Major Sky”
Video: a-ha – “Summer Moved On”
Video: a-ha – “Shapes That Go Together”
Video: a-ha – “Angel”
Video: a-ha – “Dark Is The Night”
Video: a-ha – “Move To Memphis”
Video: a-ha – “There’s Never A Forever Thing”
Video: a-ha – “I Call Your Name”
Video: a-ha – “Crying In The Rain”
Video: a-ha – “You Are The One”
Video: a-ha – “Touchy!”
Video: a-ha – “The Blood That Moves The Body”
Video: a-ha – “Stay On These Roads”
Video: a-ha – “The Living Daylights”
Video: a-ha – “Manhattan Skyline”
Video: a-ha – “Cry Wolf”
Video: a-ha – “I’ve Been Losing You”
Video: a-ha – “Hunting High & Low”
Video: a-ha – “Train Of Thought”
Video: a-ha – “The Sun Always Shines On TV”
Video: a-ha – “Take On Me”
MySpace: a-ha

Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit will release their debut full-length The Big Black & The Blue on May 25. Hear songs from it when they play the Rivoli on June 11. And also by clicking below. That works too.

MP3: First Aid Kit – “Hard Believer”
MP3: First Aid Kit – “Sailor Song” (live)

Delays, whose a-ha cover remains this week’s cover selection for a few more days, have released a first MP3 from their new record Star Tiger, Star Ariel, due out June 21.

MP3: Delays – “Find A Home (New Forest Shaker)”

Field Music have released a new video from (Measure).

Video: Field Music – “Let’s Write A Book”

Damon Albarn tells NME that new Blur singles are likely, but not a proper album. Until they collect said singles into an album.

M.I.A. has named her new album /\/\/\Y/\. Yeah, someone needs to talk to her handlers. It’s out July 13.

The Fly checks in with Ritzy of The Joy Formidable to see how work on their debut full-length is going. It’s targeted for an Autumn release. Blare also has an interview.

The San Jose Mercury News and The Georgia Straight talk to Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit.

The Big Pink have premiered a new video from last year’s A Brief History Of Love.

Video: The Big Pink – “Tonight”

Shad will mark the release of his new record TSOL – out May 25 – with an in-store performance at Sonic Boom on May 24 at 7PM. He plays a full show at the Opera House on June 12.

MP3: Shad – “Yaa I Get It”

Keane are hoping their fanbase has increased about five fold since the last time they were here as they’re booked into the Molson Amphitheatre on July 30. They just released a new album entitled Night Train.

Video: Keane – “Clear Skies”

The UK’s Wild Beasts return to town in support of Two Dancers with a date at the Mod Club on August 6.

MP3: Wild Beasts – “All The King’s Men”

The August 7 show at the Horseshoe with Maps & Atlases just got that much buzzier with the addition of mysteriously shimmering Motown-y New York duo Cults. Their debut 7″ is available to download for free at their website. Listen and find out what all the cool kids are talking about for the next 3 seconds.

MP3: Cults – “Go Outside”

Logistical issues have snookered the August 8 Empire Of The Sun show at the Sound Academy. They apologize and hope to make it back, but not to the point of offering anything resembling a window when that might happen. So don’t expect it to happen.

Michael Gira’s newly-reformed (as in formed again, not as in served hard time but feeling much better) Swans have put together a Fall tour that includes an October 2 date at Lee’s Palace.

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

"The Sun Always Shines On TV"

Delays cover a-ha

Image via Rate Your MusicRate Your MusicYes, this is two a-ha covers in a row, but come on – they’re breaking up after this tour, and then there’ll never be occasion to post any of their songs again. And plenty of you wanted the tickets to their show at Massey Hall tomorrow night, so don’t pretend you’re too cool for them. Congratulations go out to Dimitri and Samuel for winning the tickets, by the way.

As for this tune, the original isn’t as famous as their most famous song – otherwise it would be their most famous song – but it is probably my favourite (and apparently also U2’sscrub to 1:25). It was also selected for re-interpretation by Britan’s Delays for a 2006 Q cover compilation CD that payed tribute to 1986, when “The Sun Always Shines On TV” topped the UK charts in January. Their version moves at a more droning, mechanical pace and strikes a more melancholic tone, but is still grand in its way. It works.

Delays will release their new album Star Tiger, Star Ariel on June 21. a-ha calls it a day in December. The Toronto Star has an interview with guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy.

MP3: Delays – “The Sun Always Shines On TV”
Video: a-ha – “The Sun Always Shines On TV”

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

"Take On Me"

A.C. Newman covers a-ha

Image via sheandhimfan.comsheandhimfan.comAs New Pornographers mastermind Carl Newman – operating under his solo guise of A.C. Newman – begins his contribution to last year’s Starbucks Valentine’s Day-themed Sweetheart covers compilation, you get the sense that maybe he’s taking the easy way out. The signature opening keyboard lines of a-ha’s “Take On Me” are represented by some background pads before Newman comes in on acoustic guitar, strumming and singing coffee house-style. Which would be fine, I suppose, as stripping down any ’80s synth-pop tune to six strings and voice would qualify as a reinvention.

When the chorus arrives, however, so to do the synths return with some reverb-laden strings in tow and they remain through the remainder of the song, adding a ghostly majesty to the proceedings and perhaps giving Newman the wherewithal to not only attempt but hit those signature Morten Harket high notes – Newman has many talents, but massive vocal range generally isn’t one of them so it’s quite a feat. And then the signature riff does arrive in the bridge, sounding Casio-powered and string-assisted, and with that checked off it’s just riding the chorus through to the end whilst letting the strings off the leash to up the grandeur.

And that, kids, is how you do a cover.

The New Pornographers’ Together is out this week and they play The Sound Academy on June 15. a-ha’s farewell world tour arrives at Massey Hall on May 10 and I am giving away tickets.

MP3: A.C. Newman – “Take On Me”
Video: a-ha – “Take On Me”

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

CONTEST – a-ha @ Massey Hall – May 10, 2010

Photo By Frank YangStian AndersenEveryone knows one a-ha song, or at the very least one video. Many who were around back in the day would probably know at least a second, as the follow-up single – a better song, in my opinion – also did pretty well. And if you’ve seen all the Bond films – including the underappreciated Timothy Dalton ones – then you know a third, as the Norwegian trio composed the theme for The Living Daylights. If your a-ha knowledge drops off precipitously at that point, then you probably live in North America where their popularity declined after their debut Hunting High & Low.

In the rest of the world, however, they remained stars and at their peak, played to crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands. And while being big doesn’t necessarily make you good, going back and re-assessing their oeuvre reveals that some dated production values aside – the ’80s haven’t aged well for most – they’ve been remarkably consistent in turning out pop music that may lean towards the adult contemporary end of things, but is still impressively crafted and unfailingly melodic. And so they weren’t being ironic when they dubbed they announced they were bringing their career to a close and naming the farewell tour, “Ending On A High Note”, a globe-spanning jaunt that would include their first North American dates (excepting a one-off a few years ago) in decades. So while they’re not nearly as big here as in other places, there’s more than a little pent-up demand on this continent to see a-ha live.

Toronto is one of the four North American cities that will host their farewell shows, with the curtain coming on May 10 at Massey Hall. Tickets are still available from $25 to $55.50 (plus fees, of course) at Ticketmaster but courtesy of AEG Live, I have two pairs of tickets to give away to the show. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to see a-ha” in the subject line and your full name in the body, and have that in to me before midnight, May 5.

Video: a-ha – “Take On Me”
Video: a-ha – “The Sun Always Shines On TV”

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Walk In The Park

Beach House lead additions to Toronto Island Concert

Photo By Jason NocitoJason NocitoFolks were justifiably disappointed when last year’s Broken Social Scene/Explosions In The Sky mini-festival on the Toronto Islands were Molson Indy-ed out, but in hindsight it seems to have worked out for the best. First Broken made up for it in July with a free show at Harbourfront that’s pretty much legendary now (or so I’ve been told – I missed it), and now they’ve bolstered this year’s edition of the Toronto Island Concert – already a must-see thanks to the presence of BSS, who will be able to showcase their new record Forgiveness Rock Record after its May 4 release, the reunited Pavement and Band Of Horses – with Beach House.

The Baltimore duo were part of last year’s ill-fated lineup as well, but at the time were positioned in the lineup largely in a supporting role rather than as a big draw. But now coming off the release of Teen Dream this past January and the pretty much universally acclaim that’s followed, Beach House has been elevated from a band to watch to a band that’s arrived. Like most, I’m of the opinion that Teen Dream represents a big leap forward for the duo – it’s far more engaged, awake and interesting a record than either of their previous releases, which I appreciated but only when I was in the mood for something dozy. If this record was a conscious effort by Beach House to reach for the brass ring, then congratulations to them – it worked.

Beach House’s March 30 date at the Opera House is now sold out, so if you procrastinated, your only option is now to head out to the lovely Toronto Islands on June 19 and enjoy their hazy dream-pop under the Summer sun (or torrential rain, one never knows). Life is so hard, I know. Still, quite a difference from their first visit to Toronto back in November 2006 where they played in front of maybe 20 people in the front room of the Tranzac by a roaring fire. I’ll freely admit I fell asleep during the show – I think that was entirely the point. Anyways, tickets for the Island show are $49.50 plus attendant fees and looking at prices for all the other Pavement shows announced so far, I daresay this is the best value of any of them, save for maybe Pitchfork Festival. And that one doesn’t let you ride a BOAT.

Spin and The Irish Times have feature pieces on Beach House and vinylphiles rejoice – not only has their self-titled debut been remastered and reissued on fancy heavy vinyl, they’re releasing a limited-edition 7″ EP for Record Store Day 2010 on April 17. Be the envy of all your friends with a copy of either/each on your phonograph.

MP3: Beach House – “Norway”
Video: Beach House – “Silver Soul”

Also added to the Toronto Islands show yesterday were Timber Timbre, whom I hope will recruit a band of some sort to make his blues-folk ruminations audible on the big stage, and local stalwarts Zeus, Flash Lightnin’ and The Beauties, under the collective banner of “Toronto Revue”. What’s that mean, exactly? I’ll tell you on June 20.

MP3: Timber Timbre – “Demon Ghost”
MP3: Zeus – “Marching Through Your Head”
MP3: The Beauties – “Wastin’ Time”

As for the Island festival headliners, Pavement kicked off their much-anticipated reunion tour the other night in New Zealand. Spin has a report from the show including career-spanning set list, Matablog checks in with Spiral Stairs on how rehearsals for the tour went and GQ sent pop culture essayist Chuck Klosterman to interview Stephen Malkmus. Quarantine The Past, the Pavement best-of, is out next week and let me tell you – hearing songs which had always been presented in the context of their respective albums in a mish-mash running order is weird. Unless you’ve always made Pavement mixes in which case it’ll probably seem perfectly natural.

Elsewhere in the wonderful world of concert announcements, Fucked Up have been announced as one of the kick-off bands for this year’s Canadian Musicfest – they will play the El Mocambo on March 10. Tickets are $15 with limited wristbands admitted. Chaos guaranteed.

MP3: Fucked Up – “No Epiphany”

Former Dead Kennedy leader Jello Biafra will be coming to town with his new musical (not spoken word) project The Guantanamo School Of Medicine for a show at the Opera House on April 4. They released their debut album The Audacity Of Hype last year. This will be Biafra’s first appearance with band in Toronto in some 25-plus years; tickets are $22.50 in advance.

Portland’s Horse Feathers have scheduled a date at the Drake Underground on April 28. Their listed tour dates also indicate they’ll be back in the area in July for Hillside.

MP3: Horse Feathers – “Curs In The Weeds”

Austin’s Harlem have slated a slew of dates in support of their second album Hippies, due out April 6. Look for them on April 28 at the Horseshoe.

MP3: Harlem – “Friendly Ghost”

Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now!, the new project from Art Brut leader Eddie Argos, has set a date for the El Mocambo on May 8, tickets $10. Their debut album Fixin’ The Charts, Volume One, came out late last year.

Video: Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now! – “G.I.R.L.F.R.E.N.”

A correction to last week’s a-ha farewell tour announcement – the Toronto show at Massey Hall is scheduled for May 10, not 11. Tickets are $49.50 and $55.50, on sale Saturday at noon.

With their just-announced show a the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on May 26, The Weakerthans will be undertaking that most curious of musical events: a live show in support of a live album. Their CD/DVD set Live At The Burton Cummings Theatre is due out March 23. Tickets for the show are $35.

MP3: The Weakerthans – “Sun In An Empty Room”
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Night Windows”