Monday, May 02, 2016

How Can I Sleep...

A-ha - Cast in Steel Tour
Manchester Arena - 25/03/16

Ticket: £55 each. Block 103, Row K, Seats 2 & 3.

Who did I drag there?
Mr G. As it was Good Friday I had a bit of trouble of getting a babysitter and I thought I'd have to invite an unsuspecting friend but Master J was home from uni and kindly looked after little M. Should I add here that we gave him the choice of coming with me or babysit? He chose babysitting. I'll just leave this one here.

How did we get there?
As the gig was on Good Friday we ended up actually having to travel into Manchester (on a weekday I'd normally have just stayed in after work). We decided not to park at the Arena as getting out can be a matter of hours. Instead we parked near Shudehill, paid just £4 and only needed about 5 minutes to walk there through Victoria Station. Can only recommend this to avoid the post gig queues.

Block 103 is just one block away from the stage and I was pretty happy with how close we were and how well I could see them. Of course I still longingly looked at that front row right in front of the stage, where people got up and stood mere feet away. "One day" I thought. And then I realised this is probably the last tour. Queue the first bout of tears.


I’ve Been Losing You - One of my absolute favourite songs and contrary to what some reviewers said, I thought it was a great opener.
Cry Wolf - headbanging wolves on the displays. Need I say more?
Move to Memphis - Mr G said, in places the guitar reminded him of Carlos Alomar on David Bowie's Stay. I had no idea what he was on about and kept thinking, "when on earth did Bowie colab with Santana?!"
Stay on These Roads - Never one of my favourites, always found it a bit too soppy and sentimental and just not dark and punchy enough. Was great live though.
The Swing of Things - I think Morten's voice graveling "'Sleep', you wrote 'sleep, my dear'" and then rise up to "in a letter somewhere" is my favourite piece of any of their tracks. Total goosebumps when he bottoms out at 'dear'. And live it's even better. 
Cast In Steel - Title track from the new album. The studio version is a bit of a grower (the whole album is), much more touching live, certainly paired with the images of a young Pal, Magne & Morten.
Crying in the Rain - Never really liked this one, always thought it really wasn't A-ha song, even before I ever heard of the Everly Brothers. Well, it obviously isn't but the duet with Annelie Drecker was a nice change.
Mother Nature Goes to Heaven - Totally underrated, why was this never released as a single?! Even better live!
We’re Looking for the Whales - Proper 80s beat. Thoroughly enjoyed bouncing around to this.

Morten leaves the stage

Velvet (Pal) - Beautiful and simple arrangement with Pal and Magne just standing next to each other, playing guitars and Pal singing. Annelie's voice works so well for the female singing parts.
Lifelines (Magne) - Magne introduced this by saying "Morten said I'm not a vocalist". Hm, I hadn't heard that interview. Felt like a bit of a (justified?) stab by Mags and reflected the tense feeling I got off the band at times.

Morten is back - 

Foot of the Mountain - A bit of a crowd pleaser, again, I think a song that works so well live.
She’s Humming a Tune - What a change from FotM! Took me by surprise (as I hadn't checked any set lists before) and was taken in by the melancholic melody and lyrics.
Sycamore Leaves - I sound like a broken record, but this one, again, works even better live. The added grit increases that feeling of unease they sing about...
Hunting High and Low - Even the last person who might have still been on their seat, was up for this. Sing along yes. Tears as well.
Scoundrel Days - More singing for the crowd. Along with that feeling of running and a serious flashback to being 13 years old and sitting on my bedroom floor. Just wow.

The Sun Always Shines on TV - Whereas songs like Sycamore Leaves work so well live because you can make them more real and gravely, this one benefited from the sheer drama, lights and adrenaline in the venue. Bit of a bizarre choice of images for the display (violin playing mannequin kids?!) added to the almost other-worldly atmosphere and sense of theatre.

Under the Makeup - Back to beautiful and simple.
The Living Daylights - And we're back up top, along with the obligatory sing along, directed by Mags.

The guys disappear again. Could they really leave without having played *that* song?! No, of course not, it's still dark...
Take on Me - A great pop song but never my favourite, mainly because people always say "A-ha? Ah, yes, the 'Take on Me" boys!" They have done so many so much better songs. And this one is simply overplayed compared to everything else. Nonetheless, it was great: Morten hit those high notes. The crowd was jumping, dancing, singing, clapping and more. 

How was it?
As I remembered from other gigs before, Mags did most of the talking and Morten was occupied by delivering the best vocal possible. You could see that he was getting frustrated at times, gesturing to his earpiece guy. As stated above, Mags mentioned something about Morten having said he (Mags) wasn't a vocalist before singing Lifelines. You could definitely sense that there was some tension. (Just a few days later, Morten gave *that* interview, where he said that he'd definitely do no more A-ha after this.) Funnily enough I realised that tension only properly a month later when I saw them in Germany. They just seemed to have so much more fun in Mannheim and Frankfurt.   

Mr G (who isn't an A-ha fan *at all*) remarked on the fab light show was. Some of the themes chosen were a bit cheesy, e.g the headbanging wolves to Cry Wolf, but overall the quality of the pieces and the effect were fab. Simple enough not to be gimmicky, bold enough to build a mood.

I don't know how anybody can stay in their seat for a gig like that. I mean, seriously?! Lots of people sitting on their chairs, but I'd say probably about 30% were up and dancing for most of the gig - plus all of the floor section. Despite the tension, it goes without saying the songs themselves and the energy did their part to make me well up. But then again I do that at Kylie concerts. 

Of course, for the encores the entire arena was on their feet. How could you not for Take On Me?!

I walked away elated, yet sad. Is it really nearly over?! Morten's demeanor as well as the interview that followed in April gave me the push to buy tickets for the Frankfurt date. So I knew I'd see them at least another two times.

Did you go? And if so what did you think? And will they surprise us again in another five years? Let's hope so!

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