Peter Hook plays first two New Order albums @ Manchester Cathedral – live review
Peter Hook plays first two New Order albums
Jan 18th 2013
Photo/Video: Phil Newall
I walk in during the set opener – the long ago b-side of the first New Order single and last days of Joy Division classic, ‘In A Lonely Place’, and already everything sounds perfect. What once a story of bass vikings and fragile and addictive vocals and a band that walked the tightrope of hipness for decades has fractured into two warring camps but is still highly addictive and quintessentially northern.
The gig is already unfolding into a triumph with a very tight band led by Hookyâs defining bass and surprisingly assured and great vocals finding a whole new meaning in the dusty old songs and maybe helping hook himself to find some sort of sense in his back catalogue that means to much to so many people as he replays the first two New Order albums and attendant singles.
Could there be a better venue than Manchester Cathedral for a gig like this? Of course it all ready has its place in the Joy Division story, with some of the classic, defining shots of the band been taken by Kevin Cummins in the cobbled streets just behind the building. Kevin is here tonight as well – adding to the sense of history that hangs in the dark, holy air.
The acoustics of the grand old room and itâs eerie coldness only add to the weight of the music of those first two New Order albums that Hooky has turned inside out in the current stage of his quest to replay every song in his long career. Instead of lazy retreads he has find a new depth and meaning to the songs in his continuing and strange and long quest to rework all the music he has ever been involved in with his two iconic former bands, Joy Division and New Order.
Tonight his is revisiting those first two New Order albums; ‘Movement‘ and ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ and the attendant singles like ‘Procession’ and ‘Ceremony’.
It’s a fascinating period, a time when punk and post punk furtively staggered onto the dancefloor and fuzz boxes were traded for new technology and keyboards. It was the sound of a band trying to come to terms with the death of an iconic singer and find their own space from the wreckage.
The band themselves famously never really liked the sound of Movement, apart from Hooky who takes great relish in giving the songs a new power tonight that they lacked in the recorded versions and the fumbling yet charming early gigs.
The memories of those gigs come flooding back, the days of hopping into fellow Blackpudlian mate Mark Bursaâs car and going to watch the band grow up in public.
These were gigs like seeing them play their third ever show at Scamps in Blackpool on 4th September 1980 as a half formed band with no clear lead singer taking turns to sing the songs in a short set watched by about 50 people as the shell shocked band tried to find a direction in the post Ian Curtis era.
We also watched similar shows in Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield, intrigued by their battle with technology and the heavy emotions of trying to play music with the weight of expectation.
Tonight Hooky is exploring that period when the band went through those swift changes from post punk to the electro fused era, from ‘Ceremony’ to ‘Blue Monday’. Instead of retreading it heâs recast it, finding a whole new nuance and meaning in the songs and recasting them, possibly, in the way that he heard them with an added layer of the aforementioned power but a different kind of emotional sensibility with his singing which is one of the nightâs real striking points with its emotional power.
What really hits home about tonight is that this far from a perfunctory tribute band run through of the old hits. What Hooky has done is grab these songs by the scruff of the neck and give them a punkiness with his bass driving the songs with an added raw power. A raw power that suddenly makes New Order sound far more than the lighter, poppier cousin of the weightier Joy Division and packing a precision and power of the original group.
The set sounds like a punky New Order or Joy Division playing New Order and is all the better for it. One big plus this time, as opposed to his Joy Division cover sets, is that Hooky is playing a lot of bass than the Joy Division cover sets – maybe attempting to sing those holy Ian Curtis vocals was too tricky with the added iconic bass lines.
This time there is more space for the bass and vocals and some of these songs Hooky either sang originally or perhaps potentially possibly could have sung – and it works far, far better for this.
Despite what Peter Hook always protests and what he always says, he is actually a damned good singer, with a voice that is full of the pain and hurt and melancholy of the north and with a key power. Tonight is not the cartoon bass Viking, the bandâs resident head wacking thug but a sensitive and emotive crooner entwined in the power and itâs all the better for it. He even plays the melodica parts and that’s not very longship!
As he plays the albums and singles in a rough chronological order it hits you that, oddly, itâs the older New Order songs that donât sound dated – those songs like ‘Ceremony’ which could have been Joy Division songs stand the test of time whilst the more electro fused tunes that sounded so revolutionary at the time when the crumbling warehouses of Manchester met the sleek new hip clubs of New York sound more of their perfect moment. Itâs similar to the way that Kraftwerk remix albums never sound as modern as the original tunes.
Saying that, though, the final encore of ‘Temptation’ â the song when they really found their sound and ‘Blue Monday’ â the song when they broke the mainstream still sound great, with Blue Monday riding on that loop and that simple lead bass motif that transcends the song and create a timeless atmosphere around a song that defined a decade.
Itâs the bass driven moments that really cut through like the decades old ‘Age Of Consent’ with its evergreen bass line that echoes around the cathedral. The song has being given a different twist by Hookyâs vocal – again redefining it and giving it a very different meaning and emotion.
A gig like this comes with plenty of baggage but itâs baggage that we have little interest in- you know the score – all that band fall out stuff that has boiled down to one of those empty internet arguments where nameless trolls get to slag off the naughty Peter Hook for playing all his old songs and write books about his life.
Itâs pretty easy to rant away online like the lonely old drunks in the pub armed with half formed opinions and a laptop – thatâs the modern disease but the reality is, of course, somewhat different.
The current New Order album, ‘Lost Sirens’ is reworked songs from the last days of the Hooky period has a certain brusque pop charm to it and Hookyâs reworking of his own back pages has its own creativity in reinventing these songs – of course the two parties are locked into eternal competition but that should matter little to the fan.
Tonight is a real triumph – everything was perfect from the venue, to the acoustics, to the delivery of the songs, to the tight band, to the vocals and that distinctive great bass playing.
A romp through a back catalogue should never be this good but Hooky has made these songs have a very different narrative and put a whole new heart and soul into them and with talk of new songs floating about the whole project seems to have a new logical conclusion when the whole catalogue is explored and finished maybe itâs time to move forwards as well – a welcome move for a band that is now tight and drenched in the technique needed for this music.