For a band who have folded their cards on two occasions before, a-ha can’t quite stay out of the game.
When they announced their comeback in late 2014, four years on from their farewell concert in Oslo, the group’s management trumpeted that it would be exclusively a return of two years before the trio – Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy – went their own ways again. Two albums and three tours later, there’s no sign yet of the reunion train slowing for the station.
Their show at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium marks their first visit to Yorkshire since their live return just under three-and-a-half years ago; needless to say, rose-tinted nostalgia is in plentiful supply on a breezy June evening. The set-up gives the air of a high-end village fete; canopied drink stalls and burger vans are dotted across the rear half of the pitch whilst fans patter around beyond halfway in the dimming spring night.
If such surroundings are less than auspicious, a-ha are unfazed; under darkening skies, they serve up the hits, delivered with few frills and little fuss. It’s an uncomplicated performance, writ large, where the band – augmented by a string section – lets the music do the talking.
There are tweaks to the formula – opener Cry Wolf acquires a limber funkiness, while Manhattan Skyline pares back its chugging industrial riff for something more mutedly nuanced – but aside from a full-blown soul-swing recast of Train of Thought, there’s a warming familiarity to the singalongs that accompany Crying in the Rain and Analogue (All I Want).
Though Furuholmen is the primary mouthpiece, an effusive presence who seems determined to celebrate Doncaster Rovers in some form all night long, Harket is still the most eye-catching member of the three. His tremulous falsetto runs a bit thin on occasion but when it explodes into its full skin-prickling glory on the wintery baroque of Stay On These Roads, there is an audible exhale of awe from the crowd around him. That subsequently triggers a thrillingly euphoric final half-hour, crammed with all the classics – I’ve Been Losing You, The Sun Always Shines on TV, Scoundrel Days.
On The Living Daylights, Harket forgets his opening line and grins ruefully. “I’ve got lost!” he cries with a chuckle. Take On Me‘s delightful finale finds him easily enough, a buoyantly joyous conclusion to proceedings.
That reunion train surely has a few journeys left in the engine yet.