NEW ORDER, London BBC Maida Vale Studios, 09 October 2015
Very very few bands ever make it to the end with an unchanged lineup : even though REM and New Order only changed configurations due to health, the only band I can think of that's had a permanently unchanged lineup is U2. It's a rare thing. 39 years since they first formed as Warsaw, and 35 years since they became New Order, mk iii of New Order open their latest campaign – in support of their tenth album “Music Complete” (though it's either the twelveth, twenty fourth, or .. well, who cares? It's a lot) – with a lunchtime show at a BBC radio station in a suburb.
Having never been to Maida Vale, this room has no small mystery. I've heard hundreds of songs recorded in this building, written it on gazillions of cassette tapes, seen it on the back of some of my favourite records since the days when I was virgin. (Joy Division's Peel Sessions 12”s, for a start). This building is where the BBC made their reputation.
Despite the very public fury of former bass player Peter Hook, the new New Order are the same, and different : Bernard Sumner and Steve Morris are joined by original keyboard player Gillian Gilbert (who only took a leave of absence due to a life threatening health condition), late period guitarist/keyboardist Phil Cunningham, and relative newcomer Tom Chapman on bass (last seen in Bad Lieutenant, the post New Order band of Sumner, Cunningham, and Morris). This lineup have been stable for the past four years, and have finally got new music. Their first album in a decade came out last week.
Today, a small queue of 200 or so people wait patiently against a wall near Royal Oak tube station. There are black wristbands and photo ID's. There's a small, patient queue.
It's really weird going to see your favourite band during your lunchhour. Really weird. I haven't even eaten a sandwich yet. I'm standing in a basement corridor, with around 100 people behind me, staring at flightcases with the words “NEW ORDER” stencilled onto them, before I'm brought into a room smaller than the Moseley Jug Of Ale (capacity : 210), to wait patiently and stand a foot or two away from a foot tall stage.
And then Lauren Lavene introduces New Order, and five people walk on stage. Being the first public appearance in eighteen months, and the first show of the new songs, at lunchtime, in an alcohol free basement in a suburb, it's … muted. Then again, you can't expect 200 people in a radio station basement at mid-day to behave with the same kind of gleeful abandon that you would when you headline the Reading Festival to 40,000 people. It's a stripped down view, with lasers and lights, and a cramped stage that sees Tom Chapman standing at the back much more than normal. They open their first UK show in over 27 months with a new song : the pounding, Joy Division-gone-disco “Singularity”, that builds and builds and escalates with every bar to a crescendo. It was good on record. On stage, it's a beast. Thank God New Order aren't just a nostalgia act anymore. The new stuff slots right in. Even though Hooks absence is sort-of felt, the new material is strong. It must gall Hook to see the band getting their best reviews in 25 years after he leaves.
Being a noon-to-1pm, afternoon radio show broadcast live, it's a little stuffy. And, the band are trying to win over people and sell records and tickets, so the playlist is toploaded, with old songs dotted in earlier. “5-8-6” is now a live staple, and it sounds like a glorious future that never quite happened. Fourth song is “Bizarre Love Triangle” - the earliest it has appeared in a New Order setlist since 1987 which- given the repressed confines of a TV broadcast – does very well, but doesn't get the whole field dancing like an Indie Disco In Heaven. Even though seeing the band this close has a degree of intimacy unlike anything I've seen of theirs, I still can't quite believe that the first band I ever truly fell in love with - as a thirteen year old kid in 1986 - are the band I'm still getting to see thirty years later, and in a room half the size of my garden. There's a live debut of underwhelming “Restless” (that on stage is a much better proposition), and then, live debuts of two other songs : both with Elly from LaRoux adding backing vocals, both being slinky, and unexpectedly Chic/classic disco-funk in the shape of the irresistable light touch guitar and propelling, sprightly rhythms. It's utterly unlike anything else they've done, and then, so utterly New Order its surprising they haven't done anything quite like that before.
Live, the 'new' New Order are just like the old New Order, really, minus the stalking stage presence of Peter Hook. They sound – near enough – the same. The bands identity as such – and any band identity is bigger than an individual, is based on a personality that comes from the stage, a presentation : and New Order have always been the same in that respect, an assortment of lasers and synthesisers that are a sort of exhausted disco, and this on stage is New Order.
By this time, it's only 12.35, so not even lunchtime, barely into the afternoon, and I haven't even had a ham & cheese meal deal from WH Smiths. And then the band launch into a triple-whammy of three of the finest songs of all time in a concentrated 25 minute burst of euphoric melancholy : “True Faith”, “Blue Monday” and “Temptation”. These are three of the finest songs ever, and they make the sun shine in my mind at any given moment. The perfect meld of machine and man, of hope and regret, that covers the two primary human emotions, the yin/yang of love and despair, and of dancing your middle aged socks off. “Blue Monday” still sounds like the holy grail of music, and the final song is “Tempation ; a ten minute epic which saw the band become New Order, and step out of the shadow of Joy Division. There's not quite the sense of orgasmic relief that I experienced when I first saw them in 1998, of a whole room somehow singing along the bootleg-cassette only adlibs, but theres still something.
It's also the first time in 22 years New Order have played a full length set and not played a least one Joy Division song.
And then it's 1pm. 200 of us politely walk out in the British Autumn daytime in a suburb at Royal Oak, and go back to work for the afternoon. Life is a strange thing, and its amazing that we get to experience this, the here and now. Life at its best reminds you what it is to breathe, to love, to laugh, to dance to the radio : and this band are as much part of my life as books, or music, or food. It's nothing I regret.
Bizarre Love Triangle
People On The High Line