PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT : "Low Life & Brotherhood" : London Shepards Bush Empire 27 September 2014
I used to cross the world to see these songs played live. Not anymore. Not only would I not want to, I never actually could.
I'm not 23 anymore. I'm in my forties. And with children, and jobs, and all of the weight of life, Ive been slowly and quietly manouevered into a place where the songs that saved my life can't always be seen or heard. But also, the world changes, we change, and we cannot do this anymore. But music? Art? Fun? Such vague fripperies. Such unpalatable luxuries. Even this, a three hour, 31 song, marathon live show, is.. well, it's bizarre. Peter Hook, estranged from New Order, for reasons that are undoubtedly personal, and financial, is playing an endless set of shows in celebration of something he willingly walked away from.
To be cynical, it's the practical musical equivalent of a 'Look How Great I Used To Be' show. Roger Waters, once of Pink Floyd, waited 25 years after his last live show with that band before becoming a world-roaming nostalgia act. Hook took three years. For the reason that, to be honest, his Joy Division shows always felt … to me, personally, unclean : where the former bass player sings and barely plays bass to recreate something, felt far too much some kind of “Robbie Kreigman Sings The Doors” whilst another guitarist did all his licks. It's only when Hook reclaims the New Order catalogue – at least some of which he sang on – that it felt … less unethical. There's still something slightly too far removed in Hooky recreating all of his old songs with a new band, singing a set that 90% he never sang on, and with his son playing bass. I know. I know, it can be difficult singing and playing an instrument at the same time, primarily because I know I can't do that. But it still reeks of a tribute act to himself.
Clearly, Hooky loves this music, and is (justifiably) proud of his role in its creation. But it isn't New Order, and no matter how much he repurposes the old artwork for his posters and t-shirts, this is a very good tribute band with one original member. It's also – frankly – staggeringly clear why he didn't sing on the records, especially on stuff like “The Perfect Kiss”, where Hooky's lower voice strains to reach the same timbre and key as the Sumner-sung record – and merely whacking up the volume on the vocal channel cannot hide that. It just makes it sound more obvious sometimes. Thankfully, his band are very capable. David Potts on guitar and vocals, plays in a lighter style, but vocally is very close to New Order. And it is good to see him sing again, having been Hooky's main foil in Monaco for several years with a couple of much under-rated albums under his belt. (He was also wise enough to turn down being bass player in Oasis in 2000). The rest of the band, apart from Jack – Hook's son – on bass – is the same line up as the 1997-2000 era Monaco near enough. And they are undoubtedly capable, with ver faithful recreations of the original songs. The drummer perhaps shows a slight lack of flair on the first song of the night, and occasionally on other moments thoughout the night, lacking some of the dexterity in playing that New Order drummer Steven Morris has. That said, there's a four bar drum break in “Angel Dust” which is still... even now.... a perfect moment for him to show off and he executes it wonderfully. There's also been clearly a huge amount of work recreating and updating something like 20 classic songs from three decades ago, and the work is practically flawless and faithful. It sounds just like the records, aside from the vocals and the occasional rhythm parts. And – unsurprisingly – given that this is only the third time 22 of these songs have been played live, there is the expected odd rough edge.
But what is it?
It's an unevenly paced night : there's a 45 minute opening set of Joy Division material, a smattering of old non album tracks (in “Let's Go”, “Thieves Like Us” and “Lonesome Tonight”, and later on a final encore of four hit singles), both the core albums performed - “Low Life” and “Brotherhood” - are light on well known crowd pleasers, and that means that there's on 3 singles in a 17 song stretch, and overall, less than a third of the set are well known New Order hits. This doesn't bother me, as hearing 'Face Up' live is a rarity – this is only the third live performance of 15 of these songs since 1987, but it makes for a frustrating evening as there is no flow, no sense of drama, and a knowledge that the next half hour will be all album tracks most people don't care for whilst hoping for “Blue Monday” or “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (which they don't get). Even if these songs are performed with great loyalty. But it's not the same as the shows of the time. It's not a beer soaked, sequencer crash gig of the Eighties with wildly unrehearsed half finished songs or even an unpredictable setlist. It's an opportunity to experience quite faithful reproductions of a lot of New Order songs, performed by a former member of the band, but it isn't quite the same, is it? Not that it's trying to be, but there's something a little odd about such blatant nostalgia. And well, the other people who made these songs – Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Bernard Sumner – surely they have a valid view of the material? It's not just Hook's. Nor is it the audiences either. I can't see that many people flocking to see 'Jason Newsted performs …. And Justice For All', myself.
Oh, vote with your feet you can say. Don't go, you can say. But it's not the other stuff I go for. It's the opportunity to see an original member of the band perform “This Time Of Night”, which hasn't happened anywhere in the world in since Magaret Thatcher was in power, since I was 13, and since “Thriller” was Michael Jackon's most recent album. A long time. It doesn't mean I have to accept it unquestioningly, nor should I. It's that I experience the songs played like this... or not at all. And it feels unhealthily backwards looking. There's no song less than 27 years old in the set. What about anything younger than that? What about the Monaco material most of these musicians helped create? Where's the sense that this is anything other than a tribute to himself? “I Am My Own Tribute Band”, he said on the Radcliffe & Maconie show in 2012, which is true. Sure, he can say he's claiming back the material for himself. But it's not just his. I prefer my artists to look forward, not back – even when the end is nearer than the beginning. I don't need music to be a museum, but music to be a reflection of where we are now in life, not merely the soundtrack to an ancient yoof.
It's faithful, certainly. It's – aside from vocals that barely resemble the records as the records were sung by someone else – sonically a similar and clear reproduction. It's clearly a value-for-money experience, with 31 songs and 172 minutes for around £25. But it isn't the same. And maybe, it's time to look forward, not back.
Twenty Four Hours
She's Lost Control
Thieves Like Us
The Perfect Kiss
This Time Of Night
Sooner Than You Think
As It Is When It Was
Way Of Life
Bizarre Love Triangle
All Day Long
Every Litle Counts