Tuesday, May 08, 2012
NEW ORDER. London Brixton Academy. 03 May 2012.
“You know why they are brilliant?” I overhear, in the foyer. “New stuff. Most people don't write new stuff they just tour and tour and it gets boring. He's always got new stuff.”
Compared to Prince, this description of New Order is at best, wrong. But seven years since their last album - and a record of new 'old' stuff sat in legal battles – and New Order are still working. From the stage at Brixton, there's no sense that this isn't the same band it always was. Having seen every lineup of the band since they took the New Order name in 1980, it feels the same. Sounds the same. The jumping up and down madness of thousands of middle aged disco mums & dads is the same. The irreverent stage craft, and the immaculately constructed electronic cathedrals of sound that sounds like God's own dancefloor.
With the often truculent Bernard Sumner now sporting a shock of white hair, the immortal Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris – whose shirt declares cheekily “You have lost The Game” - agelessly on keys and drums, New Order in 2011 certainly support the rarely heard “Quacks-Like-A-Duck” theory. Tonight, with the band without longstanding and estranged bass player Peter Hook, doesn't feel any different. In Hook's place is the less aggressive, and happier, stance of Tom Chapman, who looks to all intents and purposes like a young man playing with one of his favourite bands. The band is fleshed out by alumni Phil Cunningham on guitar and synths, who replaced the now returned Gillian Gilbert in 2000 whilst she was on an extended sick leave.
On the other hand, Sumner – and the rest of the band – were perhaps some of the most unusual pop stars there were. Sumner, who only became singer by default, never demonstrated much in the way of rampant showmanship : at one point he apologises for being so unfailingly polite to the audience. Gilbert, in the shimmery disco dress of a middle-aged mother on a friends hen night, demonstrates an unshowy enjoyment. More than anything, they look and feel like a band that have now settled into accepting their enviable position and back catalogue.
Support is from the Whip, who more than anything, remind me of a somewhat ramshackle LCD Soundsystem : the lyrics are more personal and obtuse, but sonically, the trio create huge slabs of sequenced electronic riffarama, aided and abetted by a fluid rhythm section and gliding guitars. The audience are mostly disinterested, but The Whip perform ably.
By the time New Order take the stage at 9.29, the venue is packed to the rafters. A six year absence from live performance has made the jaded gain interest again. Sound at Brixton is notoriously poor, and tonight is no exception : for a band that immaculately crafted records, new Order often sounded like an explosion on a synth factory when playing live, at best. Tonight is no different.
Unlike many bands of a certain age, the constituency near the stage is not exclusive forthy something men in pop culture t shirts. There are the ever recognisable Vikings, a small band of 15 or so who have seen New Order on the moon in 1997 and Thailand in 2042 and Bradford in 1982. There are twenty somethings for whom this is clearly their first New Order gig (given the raptured response the Joy Division songs get), and the settled suburbanites in their skirts and shirts on a big night out. Mostly jigging around keenly. And there are a lot of people really fed up with the 6 foot 6" nincompoop who obscures lots of peoples views by holding a huge inflatable microphone up all night long, and hitting people in the face with his inconsiderate elbows.
After the closing notes of the elegant, last-big-hit of “Crystal”, Brixton is hit with the bittersweet joy of “Regret” - and the tone is set. Many of these songs may be twenty years old, but New Order don't make many records – with just two studio albums in the past 19 years.
The first half of the set is the generally heavier material - “Ceremony”, “Age Of Consent”, “Love Vigilantes” with less dominant tinkles and electronics. In many respects it's a large revisit of Decembers show at the Troxy, with minor additions : The first night sees the wonderful “Round & Round” return after a 19 year gap. The second night sees the London debut of “Here To Stay”. Given that this non-album track barely dented the Top 40 a decade ago, the reception it gets is staggeringly enthusiastic. As if one might think, it has been a live favourite for twenty years. Most of the room is bouncing and singing. Around them, like the rest of the night, the band are locked in a cohesive whole, with Morris as a human drum machine, Gilbert mostly expressionless aside from the tap of the foot as she conjurs forth walls of synthtronica, and Phil Cunningham largely adding guitar melodies where there didn't used to be any . Chapman, who has been playing these songs for three years with Sumner, Morris & Cunningham in Bad Lieutenant, is enjoying the material. Unlike Hook, who prowled the stage angrily, Chapman is perhaps more than just a barely noticed replacement Sleeperbloke : the textures and riffs he plays are the same, yet different, warmer and softer. You wouldn't – were you had never seen them before – have thought he hadn't always been here.
The set progresses sleekly. “Bizarre Love Triangle” is received with the kind of joy and gasp that belies it's number 54 chart position twenty six years ago. Whilst Morris plays drum machine on this track, the precise rhythms and soaring chord structures are practically heaven on a vinyl platter. Followed by a remade, and always glorious “True Faith”, I am reminded, not that I ever forgot, why this band were and always have been, for me, the single central point in a lot of my life : for there is joy and sorrow, dancing and despair, and those record covers that look like they should be hanging in the Louvre. When you get to “The Perfect Kiss”, which has a chorus of frog noises as the bridge, it's hard to imagine how their peers could've dared to touch them. Sure, the major acts of their glory years were often splendid at what they did, but The Cure, Depeche Mode, and lesser lights such as Duran Duran, OMD, and so on, found that what they did simply just wasn't as good, even at it's best.
When “Perfect Kiss” melds into “Blue Monday” and that melds into “Temptation” in an half-hour aural orgasm, it's hard to imagine how bands like U2 have the chutzpah to even try to be good.(And yes, I like U2, but they aren't New Order, which is their essential weakness). The downstairs of Brixton Academy becomes a swaying sea of middle aged happiness that sings as one, the synth riffs, the live adlibs (A cheer of “1-2-3-4!” comes from the back mid song as “Temptation” hits the final chorus), and the daft madness of it all.
Whilst it may be odd to consider it, but at last, after the determindedly retrospective 1998-2006 mid period, I am glad that New Order barely play any Joy Division material anymore. Those songs, as anyone with ears knows, are wonderful, beautiful things : but one of those members have left, the other is dead, so tonight it's seeing half of the band play the songs. These songs, be they New Order, Joy Division, or whomever, don't belong to the band anymore, but to the collective identity of the audience, and thus, when “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” are performed again, the latter complete with Sumner's exhortations for the audience to “COME ON!”. There's a mild taste in my mouth that maybe this isn't quite in keeping with the spirit of the records. But does that matter anymore? That was thirty two years ago, when many people in this audience were three, or thirteen, or not even born.
At the heart of it, New Order are a band that are now proud of their hugely important, but never self-important, work : the unfussy, precise Morris on drums, the awkward and passionately distant Sumner, the elegant and spacious Gilbert, and their new configuration, gave Brixton another chance to experience them. How long do we have left? How many more times will this happen again? Not that it matters. Like the records themselves, there will be a time when all that exists and is left are the memories. And what memories they will be.
Elegia, Crystal, Regret, Ceremony, Age Of Consent, Love Vigilantes, Here To Stay, Waiting For The Sirens Call, Bizarre Love Triangle, True Faith, 586, The Perfect Kiss, Blue Monday, Temptation, Transmission, Love Will Tear Us Apart.
I just have to say,what a good read that was.I have been a fan right from the start and New Order have been with me through the good and the bad times.A bit sad,some might say.I was at Brixton on the 3rd and thought they were fantastic.Nothing else to say but "Legends"Post a Comment