Thursday 26th April
What is it right now with Manchester bands reforming? Today a rumour does the rounds: The Smith are to reform. It’s dismissed by as quickly as it’s started, by none other than Johnny Marr himself. Now that would have been some news to add to the general euphoria surrounding The Stone Roses return to the big stage. When fellow Manchester indie-icons New Order announced that they were reconvening last year (having earlier split in 2007) to do two shows in Europe (Paris and Brussels) there was more fuss about who was not in the band i.e. their iconic bassist Peter Hook than the reformation itself.
The UK’s first chance to check-out a Hookless New Order came at their December Troxy gig in London. However, it is tonight, the first night of their Spring “World Tour”, that their home city of Manchester can decides what they make of the new order. Former member Gillian Gilbert, keyboardist and occasional guitarist makes a welcome return to the fray while her replacement, Phil Cunningham, continues on guitar joined by fellow Bad Lieutenant bassist Tom Chapman replacing Hooky on bass.
So to the big question? Are New Order without Hooky on bass any good? That is the question on everyone’s lips in the sell-out crowd at this, the first of two nights at Manchester’s art deco Apollo theatre. Things don’t start too promising. A truncated “Eligia” gives way to a slightly labouring “Crystal”. The sound is muddy and there’s a gaping hole where Hook’s bass lines previously weaved their magic. The following “Regret” doesn’t fair much better and it’s not looking too promising. Then, all of a sudden, the sound improves and the triple guitar assault of “Ceremony” brings the gig alive. The set continues with its guitar-heavy slant with a rousing “Age of consent” and at last the bass can be heard. OK, it’s not quite the same without their former low-slung bassist wrestling with his four-string but it’s the next best thing.
The years peel back and we soon remember why we love New Order. Populist without playing the game, high tech without losing their fragility and unpredictableness and arty without trying too hard to be cool, making them cool. Barney’s stage banter is still as spontaneously laughable and amusing as ever: “You want to enjoy yourselves, we want to enjoy ourselves, let’s have a party!”. And when he relinquishes his guitar he still dances like your uncle at a wedding disco. But this is all part of the band’s charm. Meanwhile, Steve Morris toils rhythmically at the drums like a human drum machine while his wife Gillian, motionless and statuesque behind her keyboards stage right, is as crucial part of the New Order aesthetic as any of them.
The set is a predictable one and after an anthemic rendition of “Love vigilantes” gets a whole lot more dance-orientated. “True Faith”, “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “The Perfect Kiss”, all backed by a staggering laser show and clips of the band’s ground-breaking videos, get the crowd going. However, it’s a futuristic re-working of 586 from the timeless “Power, Corruption and Lies” album that really steals the show. Especially loud cheers greet “Blue Monday”, the track that introduced the band to a lot of people’s worlds, and an emotionally charged and crowd-assisted “Temptation” that closes the set. And there’s still time for a double encore of Joy Division faves “Transmission” and “Love will tear us apart” to cap the night off and remind us just why we’ve missed them so much. It great to have them back, with or without a certain bassist.