New Order in old battles
Thu, June 21, 2012
It is the season of attempted post-punk resurrections in Berlin: Jah Wobble and Keith Levene just passed through town, riding the tiger of a new PIL album that lacks their presence by dragging an elephant of ‘Metal Box in Dub’ behind them, complete with a youthful Johnny Rotten manqué. And now New Order has returned without irascible bassist Peter Hook, the band’s trademark instrumentalist, which appears as likely to succeed as Pink Floyd without bassist Roger Waters (um, wait …). He’s been replaced by Tom Chapman, another youthful Johnny Rotten manqué, who slings his weapon in a similarly low manner. On the other hook, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert — and integral part of New Order’s transformation from gloomy post-Curtis prophecy into proto-acid jitterbug — has returned to the fold after a decade-long absence.
In that decade, however, even before Hooky’s absence, there had been changes. Although Gilbert contributed to NO’s 2001 return-from-Blackley-Cemetery, Get Ready, the next decade’s victory lap of ever-expanding (and occasionally Moby-fied) stadium tours tightened and masculinized their sound, emphasizing indie-rock guitars over electro-flecked keyboards. Their performances became increasingly confident, triumphant rather than naive or mysterious, and this approach was essentially carried over to tonight’s concert, sponsored by Electronic Beats Magazine, which has also pulled out all stops to present an exhibit at .HBC documenting their thirty-plus years.
It took a few decades, but Bernard Sumner is finally a proper frontman, inquiring as to the wellbeing of a crowd cropped with bald men of early middle-age, dropping his hands from his guitar to clap them in the air. And he’s singing Joy Division, which confronts an insurmountable icon. Though the work was always the band’s as much as Ian Curtis’, it’s a legacy they’ve long lost control over. The confidence of the band’s current approach, in fact, suits the songs of Joy Division much better than the New Order’s once-arpeggiating Keyboard Klassixx, with the highlight being a direct and driven encore of ‘Transmission.’ But it was notable that when the band had earlier attempted to gussy up ‘Isolation’ with some light drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, lasers descended, criss-crossing the stage in a manner that suggested a prison.
That the sonic approach of the evening was closer to ‘Regret’ (an early highlight) than the currently au courant Arthur Baker Danceteria days of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ underlined that trendiness has never been an issue for this band, even as they managed to jumpstart a couple of genres in post-punk and Madchester. They even seemed weirdly detached from the aesthetic Peter Saville designed for them, celebrating vulnerability in songs such as ‘Temptation’ while Saville artwork favored a fascist aesthetic. But then, one wouldn’t call the adherents to either of the above movements stylish, at least at the time, and New Order has always been as unfashionable as they have been lionized. ‘Temptation’ was the most successfully transformed of the performances, replacing the single’s fade-in with a string cop from Lou Reed’s ‘Street Hassle’ which graciously gave the compositional game away. It was tougher – everything is tougher these days – but the band remains not entirely convincing in its aggression. Sumner didn’t yelp during ‘Age of Consent’ as he could have, inappropriately saving shrieky interjections of ‘C’mon’ for the final encore, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. It certainly did — just ask Hooky — and yet it still hasn’t.
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Age of Consent
Thieves Like Us
Bizarre Love Triangle
The Perfect Kiss
Love Will Tear Us Apart
Photos: © Monique Wuestenhagen / Electronic Beats
Published June 22, 2012. Words by David Strauss.