As dozens of grasping hands strain forward to claw at Morten Harket one or two manage to get a grip and from there on in it was all over. More hands join them and the former A-ha frontman is slowly, inexorably pulled off the stage and into a frenzied pit of hormones and fake nails. Within seconds he’s stripped naked and the ravishing begins...
Oh alright. That didn’t really happen. But the dude still has his fans and you get the impression that a good old ravishing is just a heartbeat (and a security guard) away. Happily opening act Songdog helped to calm down the atmosphere with their particular brand of, what the NME called ‘noir folk’. The NME are a bunch of arse so we’ll just ignore them though eh? Songdog seemed a surprising choice to open for a bone fide pop star but they’ve got their fair share of celeb fans from Robert Wyatt to The Boss, so perhaps Morten picked ‘em himself? Musically there’s a bit of Cohen, Waits and, to my ears at least, solo Bob Geldof (that’s a compliment by the way). Not the right platform for their talents but, thanks to lead Dog Lyndon’s way with words, worthy of investigation for fans of the more poetical lyricists out there.
After selling squillions of albums and singles over a 25 year career A-ha split in 2010 (barring a brief reformation to perform at a gig in tribute to the victims of 2011 Norway massacre). Now the band’s pin up lead singer and breaker of a million and one teenage hearts Morten Harket is back as a solo artist. He’s already got form here of course having released a handful of solo albums during A-ha’s frequent sojourns but, with the band no longer there to retreat to, there’s inevitably much more of a focus on this latest release, Out Of My Hands. Reviews have been mixed, with one critic (what do they know eh?) calling it “utterly without soul”. Ouch. Actually Harket’s new solo effort isn’t a million miles away from A-ha’s last, critically acclaimed release, Foot Of The Mountain. Perhaps it’s a bit poppier, a little less filmic and a touch more Europop in places, but certainly not worth some of the more withering reviews.
The lights dim, the screams rise and, when Harket enters stage right, so do the audience (this is a seated venue but clearly no one was in the mood for sitting). Sporting a pair of shades he bears more than a passing resemblance to the Hoff at first. Fortunately that’s as far as the similarities go, the dude can sing. It’s unusual for a vocalist who specialises in singing the kind of notes only heard by dogs to continue reaching those heights as the years pass but, if anything, the voice is stronger and clearer than ever...and maybe even an octave or two higher. Opening track Burn Money Burn seems to be one of the new album’s better tunes, thanks to its mix of Euro synths and chugging rock guitar together with a topical lyrical theme (by the time you read this who knows, maybe we’ll all actually be burning money just to keep warm). The fans love it, to be honest the fans would probably be happy if he just came on and read the latest IMF Fiscal Report, but it’s a decent blast of thinking person’s pop.
Dispensing with the shades he soon dons a pair of reading glasses, noting that he “should know the setlist by now”. Bless him. He keeps these on for most of the rest of the set in fact, one of the few signs of the passing years. That voice, all sexy, smoldering choir boy, is still there well and truly intact though and at 52 he remains one hot dude, albeit a slightly more grizzled hot dude than back in the 80’s (hell, aren’t we all?). The Symphony Hall’s the perfect place for that voice to do the biz too and the sound throughout the gig was as clear as a Norwegian fjord.
With the show billed as Morten Harket – The Voice of A-ha it wasn’t long before revisiting past glories but there was a neat mix of hits, album cuts and unreleased numbers in the setlist, from the band’s cover of Greenfield and King’s Crying In The Rain (originally recorded by the Everly Brothers) through to Out Of The Blue Comes Green (voted for inclusion in the set by the fans) and the song that, Morten informed us, started the whole thing, We’re Looking For The Whales. Reinforcing the fact that the split was entirely amicable he dedicated this last number to Pål and Mags and, happily, seemed quite comfortable with the whole back catalogue deal (which ain’t always the case with artists who are flying solo after being in a band). Avid fans of both A-ha and A-Harket obviously knew all this stuff off by heart but for casual listeners (I’d fall into that camp) there were some real gems. Los Angeles (written – and played this evening – on a guitar given to him by The Everly brothers) came from his ’95 album Wild Seed and had a bit of a Mercury Rev vibe about it, whilst Keep The Sun Away (from the new album) had that same kind of big, bold pop that A-ha made in their prime. In contrast Lightning (recently released as a single) was far too Eurovision for its own good, sample lyric “You were lightning, time went by...it’s frightening”. We’ll gloss over that though.
Predictably the final number of the second encore was THAT song. Young and...slightly less young...ladies rushed to the front of the stage to press the flesh and you could almost smell the oestrogen in the air as several hundred middle aged teens relived their first crush. Oh how many Smash Hits posters were snogged to soggy oblivion as Gary Davies played that tune on “wonnerful one FM” eh? Take On Me is such an iconic single that you’d need to be clinically dead to avoid having a little jig to it though and, remarkably, Morten hit those high notes time and time again (although it looked like he felt the effort a little more...). The odd bland track aside it was a great show and a revealing glimpse into a back catalogue (both A-ha’s and Harket’s) that deserves to be...wait for it...hunted high and low through. Oh dear, there wasn’t any need for that was there?