Civic Hall, Wolverhampton
24th November 2015
If there’s one thing that’s stable about New Order, it’s their sincerity. The line-up may have changed over the years but the band, a Mancunian institution in their own right, have always kept their integrity consistent. Since their formation following the death and demise of Ian Curtis and Joy Division in 1980, New Order have always been the anti-musicians; using machines to convey emotion, uniting hedonists and introverts into one and ultimately, embodying the attitude of their hometown. Now, 35 years later, they’ve released their tenth studio album, Music Complete, a slick package of cold, electro alchemy that makes them sound more rejuvenated than ever. It’s also their highest charting album in 20 years.
The Wolverhampton Civic Hall, an esteemed venue in its own right, is rammed to the rafters for the band. It’s the perfect place for New Order to play; bright and expansive yet somewhat still intimate. As they launch into Singularity, a track off the new album, it becomes abundantly clear why the group are playing events such as Warehouse Project alongside younger, modern DJs. A mixture of Baleriac house and rave accompanied by a motorik pulse, Music Complete’s tracklist is eclectic, fresh and completely startling coming from a band whose members are pushing their sixties.
Tutti Frutti in particular is hypnotic live, abetted only by Bernard Sumner’s awkward yet endearing dancing. Say what you will about Sumner’s voice, but the lack of ostentatiousness leaves him sounding the same as what he did when the band first started. The air punching is still intact of course, but the eye is always drawn to Stephen Morris, perhaps one of the most under-rated drummers ever. He’s still retained that machine like ability of drumming with a flurry of arms that look blurred to the human eye and his presence on Ceremony in particular is palpable.
One of the most emotionally charged songs of the night, Ceremony is every bit as dark and haunting as Love Will Tear Us Apart, which features in the encore. It’s the one song that feels bitingly real alongside their poppier material. It gives them the stage presence that they’ve ultimately lacked since losing Peter Hook and his mournful basslines, because, in short, there definitely feels like there’s a piece missing tonight. Peter Hook’s bass was the heart of New Order and can’t be replaced or replicated no matter how much new bassist Tom Chapman tries. He’s a great musician in his own right but nothing can emulate Hooky’s legs-splayed, glowering, low slung stance.
Of course, it doesn’t detain away from the fact that songs like True Faith and Blue Monday will please the crowd no matter what; the fans are dedicated and appreciative, grooving to every single song played. Equal parts doom and jubilance, tonight’s set sometimes falls into karaoke territory, especially with the quality of some of the lyrics which are so poor that they shake a polystyrene cup as you pass by, however, it’s a thrilling set nonetheless. As the spine-tingling shimmer of Atmosphere plays out with a backdrop of Ian Curtis behind the band, it’s a poignant moment. New Order are a special band because they’re always willing to push themselves and their music yet never forget their roots which means they’ll always end on a high.
All words by Harley Cassidy. More of Harley’s work for Louder Than War can be found in her author’s archive.