Even with a couple new tracks in recent years, there’s not much that’s “new” about New Order, and their fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Last night’s show at the Greek Theatre offered all the nostalgic bliss one would expect from the seminal British band, complimented by big trippy visuals and referential footage from their biggest hits and videos.
Yes, Bernard Sumner is looking old, and this version of the band is missing key member Peter Hook. But they managed to overcome both of these unfortunate details early in the set when they busted out a beauteous version of “Ceremony,” arguably their most meaningful and memorably melancholy piece of music. It’s the tune that served as a transition from the band’s original guise as Joy Division, after all.
Sumner of course, moved to lead vocals when Joy Division’s Ian Curtis died, and though this re-grouping (literally a new order) marked a slightly brighter sound, the early material conveys a tempestuousness that would become the band’s signature, even as they became more accessibly dance-oriented. Infusing synth-y stomps and dance tempos with rockin’ guitars and drums is also part of New Order’s sonic stamp — on the scene coming out of Manchester, England in the '80s and on the post-punk and New Wave genres in general. The infectious blend earned them a loyal fan base in America as well as the U.K.
Their influence can’t really be overstated. The band’s catalog is crammed with bouncy, bitterweet gems and they played them potently last night: “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “The Perfect Kiss,” “True Faith” and the dance floor staple “Blue Monday.”
Though Hooky’s bass and, more importantly, the chemistry he added to the band were missing, it made minimal difference. The current lineup includes New Order's other original members, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and drummer Stephen Morris, and their contributions, combined with Sumner’s familiar vocals, made this feel like a proper New Order show. The songs written after Hook left —“Singularity,” debuted last year at Coachella, and “Plastic” from this tour — fit in seamlessly.
Images on a large screen behind the band accompanied the music, and while this was particularly powerful during the Joy Division stuff (the band logo and pics of Curtis were shown during “Isolation,” and encore numbers “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”), some of it was almost distracting at times. Also, the band might have saved “Crystal” and its accompanying music video depicting young, hip, pretty boys lip-syncing for later in the set. It was at the top of the show and made New Order themselves appear kinda drab and ancient by comparison.
The crowd wasn’t full of spring chickens, either. Forty and thirty-somethings comprise the fan base here, and the band delivered the hits of this contingent’s tender teenhood well.
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Since New Order played Coachella last year, both Hook and Sumner have criticized one another for relying on the past, but both musicians are simply giving fans what they want. In fact, Hook will be in town with his own band The Light, playing New Order stuff at the Fonda on Nov. 22 and performing Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Closer in their entirety at the Roxy on Nov. 25.