NEW ORDER London Brixton Academy 16-17 November 2015
None of it matters. Not really. In the light of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris three days before – when I was busy with some of my best friends, seeing Suede - everything seems different, even if its the same. I stand in a throng of 4,921 people, knowing it takes just one to murder, on edge, waiting for the improbable bark of gun fire. I stand here, count emergency exits, and plan escape routes. I think we all do. Terror is a state of mind.
But we live. We breathe. We resist through joy. We continue to laugh, to drink, to talk, eat burgers, and point fingers. We get together and talk about people we don't like. We dance to music and smile. Because this is what being alive is. Not being prostrate to fear. We are stronger than fear.
And yet, we forget. The opening notes of the intro meld into the frantic burst of instant classic “Singularity”. It rides on an ascending, insistent bassline, into a pounding, urgent. “One day at a time. Inch by inch.” Sumner sings, as he thrashes his Shergold guitar, the crescendo of sound as if life were somehow a ceaseless, constant war against something.
You might expect a greatest hits set from a band nudging their late fifties ; as it is, there's a fierce concentration on their recent work, and the Factory-era singles, alongside a rarely played B-side “Lonesome Tonight”, which captures a certain and specific, rare, texture of lush, dense, strings alongside a stately, dignified electronic anthem. That's mere detail, but the detail that sets New Order apart from so much of the competiion ; knowing when what to leave out is as important as what you leave in. For much of the night sees a set of abstract films, gonzo crazy lasers, and things go bleep melded with New Orders very human, tender, and vulnerable songs at the heart of things. Heartbreak wrapped in repetitive beats.
Song two, is “Ceremony” ; elegy, and defiant call to arms, the final Joy Division song. Unlike many New Order gigs, there isn't, as such, the clear division between 'guitars' and 'keyboards' as the set progresses. Songs are reinvented - “Bizarre Love Triangle” becomes a 7 minute dancefloor pounder, greeted with confusion until the familiar keyboard riffs hit like a drug, as the band take an amalgam of the multitude of 12” remixes the song has had, and form one, full, revved up, amplified roar of joyous sorrow that turns Brixton into a sea of dad dancing, somewhat middle aged people taking the night off from domestic chores.
Even now the band are reinventing the songs. Next up is the final single of their years with the estranged bassplayer, “Waiting For The Sirens Call”, that gets turned inside out into an epic equal of their Factory years. New song “Plastic” is greeted with a cheer. People are still interested in this band. Still interested in the new stuff. It's a release,a tension. A celebration, here we are, alive, dancing, singing, smiling, drinking. Walking unafraid. It's bizarre but wonderful. Perhaps more than ever.
The rest of the set is a home strait of knock down instant classics. “The Perfect Kiss”, which often sounds like a bunch of dogs fighting over a keyboard (in the best sense), as it is densely structured, overladen with tin cans, croaking frogs, and a birdsong solo, sounds awful, and amazing, at the same time, as there is too much going on. Including a kitchen sink. And it seems like most of Brixton is singing the verses (the verses!) when Bernard orates ; “let's go out and have some fun!” It's never sounded so bad, and so good, at the same time.
It's all too much, and never enough. The things that happen to me when the band play “True Faith”, or “Temptation” - that release, that's my drug, my heroin, my crack cocaine. That's the hit I've been chasing all my life. The moment when, in my bedroom as a 14 year old spinning a 12” single, the world melted away and was replaced with possibility, hope, freedom to be happy. That's what I'm still chasing with every gig, every song, every time I press Play. And you can tell I'm not alone. Around me, there's a lot – a LOT – of people who know the precise placement of the only-on-bootleg-tapes live adlibs, such as when Sumner yells “One ! Chew! Free! For!” before a wig out guitar break in 'Temptation'.
It's the kind of feeling I can never enough of. The encore sees a funeral, and reworked “Atmosphere” that reflects on Ian Curtis and Joy Division, and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which strips out the cold, clinical dissection and autopsy of failed love in favour of that most bizarre of things, a Frank Sinatra style singalongatragedy. Thankfully Sumner has ditched his pained, near-constipated exhortations of “Love Will Tear Us Ap-COME ON!” and instead lets the music do the work. Final song is the rather fun “Blue Monday”, which sees the venues security staff ask people to stop dancing. Really.
Seemingly immortal and still boyish, Bernard Sumner (at 59), alongside Stephen Morris (58) and wife Gillian Gilbert (54), form the established old guard of the band, alongside relative new comers Phil Cunningham (15 years in the band), and Tom Chapman (7 years). And yet, this is still the 'new' lineup, which has lasted longer than Joy Division did. The absence of former bass player Peter Hook is not really noticed – and, as a dyed-in-the-wool fan whose seen them 19 times since the 90's, I don't miss him. It sounds the same. It feels the same. It's not the same, but it is.
It's a slow rebirth, New Order's. This band, the same yet different, old yet new, four years into their new life, return with their new album, eschewing the easy route of nostalgia. Brixton Academy seems too small for them - though Wembley Arena, or the O2, seems too big – and New Order certainly seem now far more comfortable in their skin, which gives them the grace and seemingly-effortless ability to play live shows as a consistently powerful force. It's no hesitation to me that the band seem now to be at least as good as they ever were.
We go out : we live, we love, we smile, we dance.
age of consent (night #1) ;
crystal (night #2) ;
lonesome tonight ;
your silent face ;
tutti frutti ;
people on the high line ;
bizarre love triangle ;
waiting for the sirens call ;
the perfect kiss ;
true faith ;
love will tear us apart ;