Tag Archives: New Order

In concert: Peter Hook & The Light (Toronto; September 19, 2013)

Peter Hook-02641

The ragged faux-hawk, the week-old stubble, the biker bar-ready tee, the axe slung low: it’s a great front, but the hundred-yard stare gives Peter Hook away.

Melancholy’s enhanced by the chronological presentation of the early New Order songbook Hooky’s playing this tour, songs co-written by a dead man, songs crafted in the wake of suicide, songs credited to a band he’s no longer welcome to work alongside. Halfway into the set, at the point the songs recall his old band’s discovery of amphetamines and sequencers, daylight will poke through the blinds. The show will end in euphoria for most, but I wonder whether Hooky deflates as soon as he hits the tour bus. It’s a crummy fate, and if you’re reading, Hooky, we love ya, ya proud, tragic bastard.

The depressing state of New Order’s interpersonal affairs has occasioned a rousing compromise, wherein the corporate office tours a terrific hits set (call it Substance [Expanded Edition]), while Hooky’s satellite branch presents original albums and b-sides (Rhino Handmade, maybe?).

Peter Hook-02651

For acolytes the result sits somewhere between a child of divorce’s dual-Christmas windfall and the factionalism of The Beach Boys, who wrote the book on dysfunction and disharmony. Today, in New Order’s post-creative twilight, Hooky falls somewhere between Al Jardine and Brian Wilson, while Barney Sumner wears both the Mike Love and Carl Wilson hats. (I get a distinct Bruce Johnston vibe from The Other Two.)

(Context: after band glue Carl Wilson died, Jardine was forced out of the BBs and driven to playing regional club dates. Brian Wilson, adrift from the main band, assembled a brilliant backup unit dedicated to spot-on presentations of increasingly arcane back catalogue song picks.)

Barney’s Newest Order certainly fits the “legacy band” bill, a slick and festival-ready behemoth delivering on the promise of a peerless songbook, all adrenaline rush and audience sing-a-longs. The show I caught last fall is in my personal top ten.

But there was another Order before Quincy Jones and Technique and World Cup theme songs, one which brazenly re-wired the relationship between rough rock and extended-form disco, regularly unveiling work-in-progress genius in small clubs with iffy PAs and murky lighting. This was the New Order only fans of a certain age got to see, and this is the New Order Hooky’s re-staging, and this is the faction which wins my heart even as the glossier corporate unit wins my head.

In Toronto last week at the tiny Hoxton (September 19th), Hooky and co. took the stage to early Order A’s ‘n’ B’s: the Ian Curtis co-writes from the debut 45 and a sprightly “Procession,” before diving into the complete Movement LP.

Peter Hook-02646

For I imagine nearly all this crowd, it’s hair-raising stuff. They’ve only heard these songs in their bed- and living rooms for the better part of three decades, the music’s brawn reined in by Martin Hannett’s crystalline production. But in the here-and-now, the re-contextualization invigorates, familiar and new all at once. “Ceremony” (anybody else flash back to that dancing sport jacket guy from the 1981 Celebration show video?), “Procession” (god, it’s good wonderful to hear it in person), “Dreams Never End” (those guitar breaks!), “The Him” (tension…and release), “Doubts Even Here” (boy, Order could weave spells with repetition). Barring a few extended outros, the band stay true to the arrangements, and I dare say it’s the best Movement many of us will get to hear. As a live singer, Hooky’s a furlong ahead of Sumner circa ’81. Movement fits his dolorous rumble like a glove.

Unfortunately, he can’t reliably channel the brighter register he used on his ‘90s side-project records (consider ‘97’s near-top ten “What Do You Want From Me?”), which leads to some trouble on the Power, Corruption and Lies tracks. Sumner’s airy, pinched croon is hard for Hooky to reach, and he often settles for breaking off notes in a sore bark. (As much as I want to hear The Light tackle the Low-Life and Brotherhood period next tour, I think the vocs will pose a problem.)

Peter Hook-02647

A conundrum, it breaks the spell, but the band covers the bet by playing the back nine as expertly as the front. Keyboardist Andy Poole and drummer Paul Kehoe have been on-side since The Light started covering the Joy Division albums in 2010; guitarist David Potts came on board this summer. All three worked with Hook as Monaco 15 years ago; Potts met Hook on 1990’s Revenge side-project. So, no hired guns, this crew. And bassist Jack Bates goes back even further: he’s Peter’s son. (Does that last bit jar? Peter Hook needs a bassist? Yes: NO used two bass lines all over their early records, and given The Light’s brief of arrangement accuracy, son takes the foundation lines while papa handles leads. It works.)

But the performances of PC &L tracks and contemporaneous singles sail along, not quite as revelatory as the earlier tunes – partly because NO had learned studio technique by 1982 – but still muscular, danceable and gripping: “Age Of Consent”’s manic guitar and bass riffs, “The Village”’s burbling rythmns, “5.8.6.”’s stiff-backed proto-techno, “Leave Me Alone”’s dense, interlocked solos.

Hooky’s encore, a parade of alternative hall of famers (“EGG,” “Temptation,” “Blue Monday”), was two parts incandescence and one part canned ham – the first two, among the most physically insistent rhythmic rock songs I know, scored loudly, but “Monday” was a bit spectator sport, as three of the guys took runs at a malfunctioning syn-drum kit while the static backing track played on. A cock-up squarely in keeping with vintage New Order performances.

Peter Hook-02665

“Monday” petered out and Hooky stood alone, shirtless, blinking out into the roaring little crowd. You know it’s personal, this band warfare. It’s hard not to hear snatches of lyric as commentary (“an escape that fails and makes the wounds that time won’t heal”). How long can he burn? Raging against the death of contemporary relevancy, he’s produced several remarkable documents this decade. It’s anyone’s guess where he’s going once the last note of Republic sounds a few years hence. Some place peaceful, I hope.

Peter Hook 2013

Advertisements

In concert: New Order (Toronto; October 23, 2012)

 

Although I buy and – maybe two-thirds of the time, enjoy – 50 or 60 new records every year, I’m one of those people who’ll sniff innovation’s slowed to a crawl in new music, at least in the areas I claim to have knowledge of. Imitation’s been flattering giants of innovation forever, and while I’m glad so many current bands have good ears and good taste, when one of the titans wanders into town, I hide the new records in the closet so they’re not blinded by the light. New Order played the first of two Toronto shows Tuesday night (October 23), by which time I’d been living in a new music vacuum for the better part of a week.

This is a different New Order from the one that last played Toronto in 1993. That old Order was an active recording entity, wasn’t in the practice of playing Joy Division songs and had Peter Hook in tow. This newer Order is Bernard Sumner’s Bad Lieutenant project plus Gillian Gilbert, and while Hooky doubtless brought expulsion upon himself, a purist could be forgiven a twinge of sadness for the brilliant bassist’s absence. Fans romanticize about founder members in the fold, but as Sumner told Mojo earlier this year, we don’t have to live with the guy, so that’s that.

Although New Order made its share of straightforward album tracks, they always pulled the stops out for singles, which is why Substance ranks as one of pop music’s critically important compilations. Ungainly as early live NO could be – go trawl YouTube – their singles were audacious forays into the sound of next year. I don’t think there’s another pop/rock band from the past three decades who charted entire courses with the same successful daring. Rock eyeing dancefloors, synthpop seeking sinew, techno aspiring to the home stereo – any music melding rock instrumentation with sequencers and synths, or post-punk’s anything-goes credo with art rock’s extended instrumental passages, or indie’s shambolic playing with disco’s measured rhythms owes no small debt to trailblazing 45s like “Procession,” “Everything’s Gone Green,” “Temptation,” “Blue Monday,” “Confusion,” “Thieves Like Us,” “The Perfect Kiss” and “Bizarre Love Triangle.”

 

These were huge undertakings, a few of them on par with “Good Vibrations,” “I Am The Walrus” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for scope and influence. The songs were so ambitiously daft, it’s no wonder earlier technology vexed New Order in concert. But listeners with long memories have heard the performances tighten up due to better soft/hardware; souvenir DVDs from 1998, 2002 and 2005 showed New Order – bolstered to heretofore unimagined heights by incorporating the Joy Division songbook – morphing from mercurial to dependable stage performers. It’s made the prospect of any New Order gig a very exciting one.

So, New Order trades the thrill/agony of unpredictability in for accomplishment’s certainty: my October 23rd Toronto show was probably pretty close to recent ones you caught in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, with the prime variables being venue, song selection and Barney’s voice. What we all (hopefully) experienced in 2012 was 100 minutes’ worth of wonderful post-punk dance rock, surrounded by cheering, invigorated fans. In Toronto, the audience stood from the opening song and roared after every break. We got 17 songs, 14 from the New Order years and three from Joy Division. And Barney, bless his soul, he’s still just scrapin’ by on the higher notes, but his tone’s thicker and surer with middle-age.

The opening salvo included some nice second-drawer singles (“Crystal” and “Regret”), but they were just table-setting for the next batch: a corrosive “Ceremony,” a furiously beautiful “Age Of Consent,” a raucous “Isolation,” and 24 Hour Party People’s “Here To Stay.” That last one might seem like a throwaway unless you focussed on human metronome Stephen Morris in full-attack mode. In which case: well-played, Mauer.

A stately “Your Silent Face” followed, perhaps to allow blood to return to Morris’ fingertips. One of the era’s loveliest songs, it also bore one of New Order’s early strokes of genius: massive orchestral string patterns in place of choruses. So many of the great New Order songs used space as a dramatic device: I’m sure the band viewed the singer’s voice as another instrument, soloing for a verse, then giving way to a guitar or synth passage of equal or greater length, rather than hurrying to get to a vocal chorus or bridge. Many a classic New Order tune ran vocal-free for minutes at a time. (Space, as we might hear it.) In “Your Silent Face,” the string melody says more than the voice. In concert, it’s mesmerizing. End-of-song applause erupts and it’s like waking from a dream.

 

Stone classics kept coming: majestic singalongs (“Bizarre Love Triangle,” “True Faith”), pillars of long-form excellence (“The Perfect Kiss,” “Blue Monday”) and the romping union of both (“Temptation”). For each moment of mortality – Barney’s deepened voice hasn’t the winsome quality of the recorded “Triangle,” and the heavily programmed “Kiss” will give them fits forevermore – there was an astonishing response: I’m not sure anything will ever match “The Perfect Kiss”’ gorgeous, stampeding coda for breathless thrills, but “Temptation” comes close. In fact, it was more consistently great. Its cycling riffs, whooped vocal codas and explosive drum fills were dizzyingly forceful, the disco genre-derived breakdown ratcheting intensity to fever pitch. “Temptation” was a bull and the Sony Centre its china shop.

After that, New Order took a powder and came back as Joy Division. Sumner teased the crowd with song choices (he floated “Atmosphere” but the printed setlist showed “Shadowplay” and “Heart And Soul” as well) before settling on “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” As a singer, he’s no Ian Curtis. I didn’t think it would bother me in person, but the absence of that singular talent still burns. New Order were right to bring the Curtis/JD legacy into the light – in toto, the combined JD/NO songbook is the most impressive body of work in post-punk’s 30-odd years – but it’s a steep climb to channel those vocals.

Speaking of uphill battles: how’d the newer guys fare? Phil Cunningham’s not a problem. He plays rugged guitar without overcrowding the songs. (Inept percussionist, though: those weren’t George Michael Bluth-calibre fills on “The Perfect Kiss.”) And Tom Chapman, saddled with Hooky’s legacy, was equal to the mammoth task. No low-slung axe-playing or stage-hogging antics, but his tone, presence and expressiveness were respectful to Hook’s twanging leads. I only counted one disappointment, a total bail-out on the intricate, genius thread that runs through “Waiting For The Sirens’ Call.”

At present, New Order is a travelling jukebox. Whether they eventually consummate their roster makeover with records is anyone’s guess. They’re a must-see, though. Music like this – thunderously exciting and unabashedly melodic, concocted without mainstream aspirations but massively impactful on same – isn’t dime-a-dozen. Days later, I suddenly notice my new records are still in the closet.

Songs that saved your life: New Order – “Everything’s Gone Green”

click image above to play clip

NEW ORDER – Everything’s Gone Green (1981)

After releasing tentative product either heavily indebted to Ian Curtis’ doomy worldview (Joy Division actually rehearsed both sides of the “Ceremony”/”In A Lonely Place” single) or scared shitless in the wake of his suicide (Movement is a fine album, if easier to admire for its sound and style than for any number of great songs), New Order‘s first hall of fame moment arrived in September 1981 with the “Procession” single. A gorgeously fleet dream-pop number written by drummer Steve Morris, “Procession” introduced the gleaming synth-wash effect that dominated so many of New Order’s ruminative mid-period songs. But it’s the B-side whereupon they ripped up the rules and staked their claim as the most influential British group of the decade.

Said B-side, “Everything’s Gone Green” is a five-star sunburst, its exhilerating physicality sometimes only partly conveyed in early live versions (like the one linked above, hailing from a November ’81 NYC show). But the song’s essence was perfectly realized in the studio recording, leaving hardly any room for improvement or expansion of ideas in a concert setting. A perfect record, then, its je ne sais quoi the byproduct of studio whimsy.

Singer/guitarist Barney Sumner, on the signature sequencer line running throughout the song:

We triggered it by Steve playing a hi-hat beat into a 24-track tape machine and then sticking a wire into the tape machine’s VU meter and connecting that to the synthesizer. Somehow it just worked. It really was just about sticking a wire into something and seeing what happened.

 

Taking a logical, nay crucial, cue from Giorgio Moroder’s Donna Summer records, the band and producer Martin Hannett hot-wired Eurodisco’s rigid sequencer synthetics to post punk’s doleful thrum, using Morris’ sloppy brilliance as its fulcrum. As a drummer, Morris’ uncanny time-keeping played chicken with technical imprecision, meaning he could flit about the kit like a spasmodic Stewart Copeland, tom tom hits spilling everywhere, only to hop back on the beat for the next bar. In later years he refined his approach to playing fills over loops, but in those days he sweated every drum hit with beautiful abandon. Tracking that hi-hat pattern to a sequencer, “Everything’s Gone Green” found its heartbeat. Peter Hook’s droning bass lead and Sumner’s wrist-burning guitar shanks gave it its soul.

The definitive 12″ version of “Everything’s Gone Green” (audio only): hhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJNOkQ-jqCE

“Everything’s Gone Green” doesn’t have a chorus, per se. It’s a three-act song, with a lengthy intro and outro bookending a series of vocal refrains. Sumner never could sing and play guitar credibly at the same time. In New Order’s rough-and-tumble early records, the breaks following his vocals provided a spot for all those pent-up notes. Sometimes the passages were serenely beautiful. Sometimes they were beastly rhythm workouts. Sometimes they were both. On “Everything’s Gone Green,” they were minimally hypnotic, scraping, furious.

The primal scream kicks in around the three-minute mark on the recorded version (see audio link above), after Sumner’s last verse. Someone turns the blipping sequencer line way up, Morris starts throwing live drum fills around like he’s in a caber toss, and the guitaring – brittle, bone-dry and rudimentary – leads the two-minute charge to its dizzying end. Hook’s imperious bassline never strays from its role at the eye of the swirling mass, admirably restrained. At full throttle, the song’s maruading coda is like none other, and it is possibly the most exciting passage I’ve ever heard in post punk music.

Tethering rock instruments to computer-generated rhythms wasn’t unheard of in 1981, but New Order’s glowering genius kept ’em ahead of the pack. To a peer group then fuelling pop’s last great singles era, largely still awed by Joy Division’s legacy, this bold music showed the way. Breaking from the sad-eyed languor of the first post-Curtis records, New Order’s embrace of dance rhythms brought sunlight to the playground. Legend has Brian Eno bursting into a Bowie recording session for “Heroes” in 1977, clutching Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” 45, announcing he’s “just heard the sound of the future.” Four years later, I wonder how many jaws dropped when the needle touched down on “Everything’s Gone Green.”