Review: Iconic '80s Band a-ha Rocks Hollywood Bowl

Wednesday August 3, 2022

a-ha in 2020
a-ha in 2020  

I use the word "icon" a lot when I review events at the Hollywood Bowl because, well, every season is packed with such from many different eras that it's impossible not to. And I can't not use that term here.

a-ha is one of those bands that '80s kids absolutely know because of their worldwide smash hit song "Take On Me" and the groundbreaking video that resulted from it. The catchy keyboard and ethereal vocals made this their signature song whose popularity has truly spanned decades.

But aside from the follow-up hit "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." and their Bond theme, most people would be hard-pressed to think of another smash from the endearing trio. Sure, they've been around for decades, have had their own internal strife, and even have their only documentary (released this year), but consistent chart-toppers in the U.S. they were not.

So, it was surprising to see them as headliners at the 17,000-seat Bowl, but exciting regardless. And it made for an interesting and different type of evening. 

?The audience was a mix of hard-core a-ha fans, '80s kids, and just those out for a night at the Bowl. This stop for the band was their last on a worldwide tour and, as they commented, it was a dream to play on the same stage The Beatles played on many decades earlier. 

Conductor Thomas Wilkins led the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra through the first third of the night with compositions by one British and two Norwegian composers: Malcolm Arnold, Johan Halverson, and Edvard Grieg, including four familiar selections from the latter's popular "Peer Gynt." After a brief intermission, it was time for the Norwegian band to take the stage.

Founded in 1982, members consist of Pal Waaktaar-Savoy, Magne Furuholmen, and Morten Harket (of the infamous falsetto.) While they've had enormous success in their homeland and overseas, their U.S. success consisted of mostly their first two albums. So, for most of the Bowl audience, a good number of songs were unrecognizable. But that didn't take away from the enjoyment of the night.

 

For the fans, every song was a chance to hear their favorite band come to life with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra punctuating the band's aural creations with strings and harmonies. Moving between a number of their albums, the band opened with Sycamore Leaves from 1990s "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." They moved back in time to their sophomore effort "Scoundrel Days" with "The Swing of Things," then back to the '90s with "Crying in the Rain."

 

Selecting songs from almost all of their 10 studio albums, with two new tracks from their forthcoming "True North," the band kept things moving with their trademark pop-synth sound evoking the '80s even in the songs not recorded in the decade. Magne provided most of the brief banter, but this is a band that's there to play music, not delight the audience with stories. So play their music they did.

 

For sure, the audience was waiting for their biggest hits and as the night came to an end, they kept it close to the vest with "Hunting High and Low" from their debut album, "The Sun Always Shines on T.V.," "I've Been Losing You" from "Scoundrel Days," their Bond theme "The Living Daylights," and finally, their most popular song and one of the most familiar songs of all-time, "Take on Me" which had the entire crowd on their feet.

 

While it was clear that at least half the Bowl wasn't acquainted with the band's discography, it was also clear that many came away new fans. And for those that adore the Nordic trio — it was the night of a lifetime!

 

"a-ha with Orchestra" played the Hollywood Bowl on July 31. For information about upcoming events and for tickets, visit www.hollywoodbowl.com.