I don’t tend to do reunion shows. My recent blog about the Pixies expressed how I felt about the band continuing without Kim Deal. New Order have a similar problem with an absent bass player and therefore seeing a Peter Hook-less New Order was not a priority. However a night out with my mates in Manchester was not to be sniffed at so it was with low expectations that I headed out of Euston.
I saw New Order in their eighties pomp (I’d posted about it here) and whilst erratic they were thrilling. They were similar to Dylan in so much as you never knew how the next song would pan out, let alone the gig as a whole. I saw them again at Lancashire Cricket Club at a festival in 2002. This was before the band fell out with Hooky and it didn’t quite hit the mark. Bernard’s dad dancing was a source of embarrassment but it all felt a bit too slick, especially given that for me New Order’s charm was the perpetual danger of a descent into chaos.
Their new album “Music Complete” has featured highly in many of the end of year best album polls. It is a good album, probably better than we should expect from a band that are effectively 40 years old. But I’ve found it a bit over egged. The keyboards are mixed high with guitar and bass in the background. It isn’t reliant Hooky’s signature bass sound but the other elements that have replaced it have moved away from the stripped-back sound of their pomp.
I know bands evolve. As an example, I’m probably one of the few people who still love and listen to REM’s “Up” and didn’t enjoy their later albums where they moved back to the guitar-bass-drums template. So what does this say? Probably that I’m a contrarian.
When we booked the tickets, little did we know that this was going to be a late show for New Order. The gig was part of a series held within the Store Street warehouse, bang underneath Manchester Piccadilly station which had previously been a WWII air raid shelter. It was an old brick vaulted series of large spaces which has been used off and on for the last ten years or so as part of the Warehouse Project. This is a series of mostly dance/DJ gigs held on a running basis over a number of months each year.
Whilst the venue isn’t literally underground as it is at street level, it does feel “underground”. On the way back from Manchester today, I was fantasising about how well other musicians could benefit from hosting gigs in similar venues. The damp on the wall, the exposed brick and concrete, the shape of the spaces all adds a sense of mystique to the occasion.
We arrived to catch most of Erol Alkan’s set which built things up nicely for New Order who hit the stage pretty much on the stroke of midnight, bathed in blue light.
The band came out the blocks with two tracks from their new album and Crystal, all of which rattled along nicely until the beautiful pause for breath that was “Your Silent Face” from “Power Corruption and Lies”. “Restless” introduced another couple of lines into the pantheon of woeful/wonderful Bernard lyrics.
From “Restless” in 2015
I want a nice car
Who’s as pretty as a star
From “Every Second Counts” in 1986
Every second counts
When I am with you
I think you are a pig
You should be in a zoo
Ellie Jackson from La Roux joined Bernard for “Tutti Frutti” and “People On The High Line” in her best “David Bowie Stage” garb in particular with a great pair of pegs. She offered a really welcome counterpoint, especially visually.
The title track of “Waiting For The Siren’s Call” was a surprise highlight for me, another break in the headlong hedonist Saturday night rush of the rest of the set. The rave scene passed me by too a large extent, mostly an age thing plus a reluctance to surrender myself to unknown pharmaceuticals. What I did take from the gig was the sense of the communal from that era, in particular for the set’s big hitters – “True Faith”, “Temptation”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “Blue Monday”. For another new track, “Plastic”, the band were joined by Denise Johnson and Dawn Zee and a Screamadelica tear up ensued. Denise brought Gillian a glass of champagne before “Temptation” which remained next to her keyboard untouched for the rest of the gig.
The band encored with “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. It is probably just me but whilst the versions were both excellent, the dark symbolism of the songs didn’t quite suit the environment. The audience turned them into celebratory catharsis and more power to them.
The highlight for me was “Perfect Kiss.” I remember seeing the video for this back in the day and loved the slow build up, the close ups of the band in the studio working with Arthur Baker. It hooked me at the time and the version last night took me back to that place.
Here’s that video again:
It was probably a combination of factors (seeing old friends, the band being on top form, the venue) but it is clear I need to keep that “NO REUNIONS” rule under review.