PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT : "Movement & Power, Corruption & Lies" : Leamington Spa 15 Feb 2014
Seven years after the most public, and acrimonious rock divorce in recent history – one that's cast a shadow over the past thirty years (and 14 or so albums) from Hook's former bands Joy Division and New Order - Peter Hook and The Light are mining the nostalgia market touring respectively, the three Joy Division albums and the first two New Order albums at a somewhat random selection. Autumn sees them adding New Order albums 3 and 4 (“Low Life” and “Brotherhood”) in a quest to play every song he ever recorded. Possibly. I can't see too many people coming out to see him tour Revenge's “One True Passion”. In so many ways this reminds me of that other great rock divorce, of Roger Waters vs. Pink Floyd, except here it isn't Wembley Stadium at stake, but the Manchester Apollo.
In the absence of The Astoria – now cruelly replaced by a whacking hole in the crowd, and then, after that, yet another railway station – Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms is now my favourite venue in the UK. A classic, Victorian Ballroom that by all rights should now be a Wetherspoons, the venue is delicate and ornately decorated, with a relaxed atmosphere. Hook and his band take the stage at 7.35pm to around 600 people.
It is unusual to see this band : a fraction, a shadow, a glimpse of what power New Order had – both in terms of onstage chemistry and audience response. The music sounds identical to within the nearest margin, but the sense of accuracy is replaced by a sense of reproduction, or an Ersatz imitation. His band certainly provide faithful and accurate reproductions of the songs, but being a tribute act to oneself – like Roger Waters, and Morrissey – especially in the absence of any songs less than thirty years old, feels undeniably retrospective and nostalgic. The music is still relevant to now, but it's not fresh. Given that his band are in effect the same lineup as the half-million selling Monaco, complete with David Potts on guitar, it is somewhat surprising to see a band play no songs they birthed. Imagine if you will, seeing Electronic called Bernard Sumner's Kitchen and performing only 30 year old songs? I wish the choice of songs were a little wider. (Admittedly, nobody would know any of the Revenge songs. But that's their choice).
Also, and not to be harsh, Hooky sings most of the time and barely touches his bass for huge chunks of the set, whereas on record he sang 10% of these songs. His voice is capable and fits the songs, but he's not the singer and – especially when he has David Potts on guitar who can sing some of the older songs more closely – I wonder why. When Hooky doesn't play bass but his son does, and he sings songs he never sang, it's a spirited reproduction, but not particularly faithful sonically. Material, such as “Your Silent Face”, “586”, “Truth”, “Senses” and so on are reproduced with near perfect accuracy, but you can't escape the fact that The Light are the best covers band there is. (If in doubt, compare it to Lou Reed or Bob Dylan's sacreligious trashing of his own back catalogue at almost every show he ever played).
On the other hand, when Hook & The Light perform Joy Division songs – the opening 45 minutes is a selection of largely random Joy Division material, opening with “Atmosphere” and closing with a surprisingly effective “Decades”, the fact that the original singer is no longer alive makes it perhaps less obvious. “Decades” is, it occurs to me, a song that I never thought I'd see performed live by anyone ever, let alone be so powerful. Live versions by the original band were frankly pitiful in 1980, but delivered by a band with a shortage of money and equipment whose vision strained far beyond their limitations. A few minutes later, and the band are back, performing the first original New Order material released, the rarely heard “Procession”. Hooks son, Jack Bates, doubles up the basslines, as the rest of the band whip up a passionate storm. “Everything's Gone Green” shines as an unappreciated gem in the set. Why New Order only played this song once (in 2005) after 1988 baffles me.
And then it occurs to me, and I am reminded of the old Page & Plant Unledded record, where Jimmy Page lets the extra guitarist (formerly of The Cure) reproduce all the difficult guitar solos. This is an imitation, an echo of something, but it sounds faithful, and – despite some occasional differences in arrangement – a bassline here, a sequencer part there, is the same, but different. Since New Order won't play “Doubts Even Here” ever again, you might as well get what you can here and now.
In fact, most of the material tonight hasn't been played live by any member of the band aside from Hook since around 1985. So for me, with a huge number of gigs by New Order and related bands under my belt, 22 of the songs in the 30 strong set I have never seen live before. (Well, 21 and a half, as I saw an unrehearsed New Order attempt and fail “Dreams Never End” in Brixton in 2001).
In some ways, it's a glimpse of what never was. Songs such as “Dreams Never End” and “ICB”, that I grew up listening to as unachievable objects of rarity, are reproduced – not as the way they were, but as the way we remember them. Presented live, the songs are clearly the sound of the band of the time stumbling through and trying to find a new artistic identity, here made flesh by another band. The words of “Movement” are the sound of someone trying to sound like someone else. The contrast is wider when the band step into the sound for which New Order are known, a joyful, melancholic electronic sprawl. Where the lyrics for the third part of the set – a recreation of second New Order record “Power, Corruption & Lies” - also show how clearly Bernard Sumner was distancing himself from his past with repeated exhortations to “Leave Me Alone”, “Piss Off”, and so on. The sound becomes bigger and bouncier, and the crowd a little more unruly, despite frequently being told “I LOVE YOU HOOK!” and “YOU'RE A FUCKING LEGEND!” mid-song. Which is just, frankly, bloody irritating. I know nothing happens in Leamington, but does it have to be so obvious?
The final third sees the crowd liven up, as the set eases into the bouncy “586”, the much loved “Your Silent Face”, and then an encore the four big hits, with “Ceremony”, “Temptation”, “Blue Monday” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. The crowd erupts into half middle aged balding blokes playing air bass, and an assortment of 20 somethings jumping around as Hook performs songs written before they were born – after all, the most recent song of the night was released before Thatcher won a second election. (You don't get this kind of spread of ages at say, an OMD gig, I imagine). It's music that traverses generations, and whilst it is a spirited and accurate reproduction of what can never be again, it's not the real thing, but it is something real. It is as close as you can probably get to seeing these songs ever performed live in the 21st century.
Day of The Lords
Dreams Never End
Doubts Even Here
Cries & Whispers
Everythings Gone Green
Age of Consent
We All Stand
Your Silent Face
Leave Me Alone
Love Will Tear Us Apart