Anyone attending a music venue this week after the Bataclan shooting can’t help but put themselves in the position of those that were senselessly killed on Friday evening, a feeling that really shouldn’t be linked with an experience that should be an uplifting and life-affirming one.
The Brixton venue is one that has long been associated with NEW ORDER since the release of the ‘Academy’ live VHS and the Roman-style statues positioned around the lower part of the auditorium give a nostalgic reminder of the cover of the 1989 release.
THE HORRORS were an inspired choice for support, initially an indie gothic guitar-based act, they have now filtered in plenty of electronics into their sound and made good use of their custom pyramid synth. Throughout, there were nods to Krautrock, several songs containing some superb driving sequencers and the band also thankfully managed to avoid falling into the trap of overly sounding like KASABIAN. Wrapped in the blanket of dry ice that you’d normally get at a SISTERS OF MERCY gig, the conclusion of their set saw 6 foot 7 inch frontman Farris Badwan cheekily thanking NEW ORDER for “playing with us”.
After a short interval, the lights dimmed and an image of the tricolore was projected behind the band equipment as NEW ORDER took to the stage – after a short tribute to those who lost their lives and a “Vive la France!” from Bernard Sumner, the band opened their set with ‘Singularity’ from the recent well-received ‘Music Complete’ album. During the song, images from Mark Reeder’s ‘B-Movie’were projected showing bygone images of Germany including those of the Berlin Wall.
Versions of classic tracks ‘Ceremony’ and ‘Age Of Consent’ followed, both staying largely faithful to the originals, unlike several of the song arrangements which were to come later in the set. During ‘Age of Consent’, it became apparent that by having additional guitarist Phil Cunningham in the band, the band’s live sound has become denser and in some cases taken on a sludgier texture which has unfortunately killed a lot of the clarity of Gillian Gilbert’s string synth lines.
This could be partially attributed to a sound mix issue, as the Academy is notorious for its often unpredictable sound and acoustics. But to be honest, the classic instrument framework in original NEW ORDER worked well and having an supplemental guitarist still seems excessive especially considering that much of their material doesn’t require a twin guitar attack.
The supercharged, re-worked version of ‘586’ which was first debuted at the band’s 2012 Isle of Wight Bestival gig followed and still sounded superb with its KRAFTWERK-inspired vocodered title being echoed by graphics during the song. Whilst ‘Restless’ from ‘Music Complete’ proved itself to be a worthy addition to the NO canon, ‘Your Silent Face’ from ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ was raised by a few BPMs, but again unfortunately suffered due to Gilbert’s synth part getting lost in the mix.
LA ROUX’s Elly Jackson was the evening’s welcome ‘star turn’, reprising her vocals on ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘People On The High Line’. The former song’s chorus is still superbly written and arguably one of the band’s best, but the overlong song structure still hampered it from truly being considered a bona fide NO classic, with even Sumner himself confessing at the end of the song that even he had “no idea what the song actually was about!”. Although in the band’s heads, ‘People On The High Line’ was probably envisaged as an Ibiza / Balearic-style dance track, it still came across as a distant, unwelcome cousin of WHAM!’s ‘Club Tropicana’, especially with it’s overtly funky slapped bass intro…
Having witnessed ex-bassist Hook and his band several times now, it is hard (and nigh impossible) not to draw conclusions and compare song interpretations between the two acts.
The musical manifesto of PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT is to reproduce the JOY DIVISION songs as they were originally performed live, whilst reproducing the NEW ORDER ones as they appeared in their recorded incarnations with little deviation from those formats.
What became apparent this evening was that NEW ORDER desperately want to be forward thinking and not slavishly stick to previously set song arrangements and structure – this worked for some tracks, but for others meant that they only became properly identifiable when the lead vocal was introduced. This certainly applied to the interpretation of tracks such as ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and ‘True Faith’ so potentially could have left a few fans initially scratching their heads until Sumner started singing.
The inclusion of a re-vamped ‘Waiting For The Siren’s Call’ was probably the evening’s biggest misfire.
When classic NO songs such as ‘Crystal’, ‘Thieves Like Us’ and ‘State Of The Nation’ get left on the substitute’s bench in preference of the musical equivalent of a non-league striker, one has to question the judgement of the band on this particular call! Of all the new songs played tonight, ‘Plastic’ stood out…
A HUGE electronic juggernaut of a track, its driving MORODER-esque bassline taking on a truly hypnotic quality which could have quite easily be stretched out for another 4 to 5 minutes – the graphics utilised during the song recalled those used by KRAFTWERK during ‘Autobahn’, but transported several light years into the future.
Special mention must be given to the light show throughout, at times it was a breath-taking and retina-searing spectacle with wonderfully synced images – the only slight slip was when a “1, 2, 3, 4” graphic behind the band during ‘Temptation’ came a few bars after Sumner had himself shouted it…!
JOY DIVISION material was ably represented during the encore with a funereal ‘Atmosphere’ being accompanied by video images from the retrospectively directed Anton Corbijn promo video plus a new ‘Cat People’ inspired intro tagged on as well.
There was also ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, its title scrolled across the screens, as if anybody really needed any reminder as to what this song actually was!
Stephen Morris’ drumming during ‘LWTUA’ was truly breathtaking, the breakneck snare and tom rolls were completely on-point and machine-like, helping make the track a perfect precursor to the closing ‘Blue Monday’. Like ‘LWTUA’, the song’s title was again projected on the screen behind, and considering the kick drum intro is probably one of THE most recognisable in modern music history, this felt bizarre and somewhat unnecessary.
Without wishing to over dwell on the shadow that has been cast by Peter Hook leaving the band, it was apparent tonight that whilst his iconic bass sound isn’t particularly missed on the band’s new songs, the earlier material saw Tom Chapman struggling to put his own stamp on it.
Hook was always the testosterone-fuelled element of the band, giving them a macho edge, but at the same time inspiring the more beer-fuelled faction of the NEW ORDER crowd with their “c’mon Hooky, let’s ‘ave it!” chants.
Without him, the band come across as far more pop-oriented and the whole dynamic with the return of Gillian Gilbert is that of a less muscular sounding act.
The split will always be viewed negatively in some quarters, with those that will say that neither acts can truly claim to be able to represent their songs without their missing component part(s). But the glass half full approach would be to counter that by saying that fans now get double the chance to hear an even wider selection of the JD / NO back catalogue!
Whatever opinion one may have, it is still wonderful to hear these songs live and whether they are Hook or NO interpretations, nothing can take away the fact that they will remain one of the most influential bands of this or any musical generation.
Vive la difference…
‘Music Complete’ is released by Mute Artists in CD, clear vinyl double LP and download formats
NEW ORDER play The Warehouse Project in Manchester on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th December 2015
Text by Paul Boddy
Photos from Berlin Tempodrom show by Roger Kamp
18th November 2015