NEW ORDER London Royal Albert Hall 23 April 2016
Now firmly established in their third incarnation as a somewhat permanent fixture, New Order follow up last years “Music Complete” with a one off show for the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Albert Hall. As a building this enormous, imposing hall, a dome of history and of stature, a tribute to one womans love for another man, has become one of Britain's most important and beautiful locations. A place that, were you in a band, you'd want to headline in your life. A prestige venue.
In the thirty years since New Order last appeared at the Albert Hall, so much has changed. And yet, also, so little. Last time they did, I only experienced it through a grainy VHS and shitty cassette tape. To now experience them with my own eyes, my own ears, to see them in the flesh. There was a time that was never going to happen.
After 18 times, what's left to say? Well, what indeed. New Order are the band I grew up loving and never having. For years, they were a lost band in my world, one that existed but I never experienced. Now, 30 years liking them – well over two thirds of my life – gig #18 of New Order is not just another gig. Seeing New Order isn't ever just another gig.
Yes, they're getting old. Past 60. Why do I keep seeing them? Because nobody is immortal. Prince and Bowie can't escape mortality. Nothing can. They'll be a time when New Order are no more. When all that remains is records and memories and faded t-shirts. It could happen next week. I hope to God not.
Because there's a moment where, even in a stuffy Victorian classical concert hall, the band roar through their songs like Gods. Because, even at their advancing years, there's a youth of spirit that remains with the band. Even if the crowd, including myself, are no longer half our age and twice as sprightly. The crowd are slowing down... slightly. Myself included.
Even the once ever youthful Bernard Sumner is getting slightly older. The perpetually blonde hair has gone white, and the waistline is slightly bigger, but aside from that, all that has changed is the synths are more reliable these days and the setlist slightly more predictable. Stephen Morris is still a human metronome. Gillian Gilbert a sedate architect of sound, whose health-enforced absence matches the bands artistic slump that is now clearly banished.
It's not the same. I don't want it to be the same. I want artists to change. Evolve. Grow old. I don't see music as a museum, but art as an ever changing organism, shifting constantly in relation to the world, to our place in the world, and to itself.
Even new stuff, like “Plastic” and “Singularity” sound like old songs you just didn't hear until recently. It's no determined history lesson – well over a third of tonights songs are barely six months old, and more than half of the new album gets aired. Also, the bands enormous legacy as Joy Division is treated without the somewhat slavish devotion it has sometimes had. New Order have never been the type of band to play the whole of an album in order, or a nostalgic themepark live set. Just one Joy Division song gets played - “Love Will Tear Us Apart” - and it's more of a celebration than an obligation. This isn't Joy Division, and whilst you should never forget where you come from, you shouldn't also get stuck there.
As a set, there's an absence of some perhaps expected big hits, as always was the way – and the revival of “Regret”, which gets only its second live airing in a number of years. Aside from this, 20 of the bands 31 singles don't get played. “Academic” and “Superheated” get played for the first time in the UK, and “Crystal” is brought back after an absence. For setlist watchers, it's somewhat predictable with around half the same songs in roughly the same place as Brixton in November.
But predictable isn't always bad. We align to films, politics, bands because we know the promise and the qualities we expect, and really, what we mean is.. consistent. The first half of the set is largely made of songs from the new album and deep LP cuts ; around half an hour in, the mood changes – subtly – from the measured “Your Silent Face” to a slow, gradual ascent to ecstasy – first with the Chic-via-Giorgio-Moroder grooves of “Tutti Frutti” and “People On The High Line” - before a gradual move up the leaderboard. “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Waiting For The Sirens Call” are played in their full 12” glory, bouncing like happy disco puppies – though the latter has been a fixture of setlists for a very long time, and probably needs rest. New material is slotted in elegantly (“Plastic” is the best single New Order song in probably 20 years. Then again, so is “Singularity”), and received keenly ; perhaps dispensing with the common knowledge that the past was always better than the present.
But when the present sounds this good, why think about it? There's huge wodges of lasers and fantastic lights, or the songs, oh the songs, the relentless pounding beats of perfect drum machines, the swooping strings and the way a stuffy classical concert hall gets transformed into a middle-aged/pensioner disco. Or the way that the crowd aren't quite as insanely bugnuts as the first time I saw them in a Manchester club twenty years ago.
Which is effortlessly re-created by a nostalgic climax : “The Perfect Kiss”, “True Faith”, “Temptation” and “Blue Monday” are all played back-to-back. If you told me in 1994 that I'd still be doing this, seeing that, and being here watching those songs played by the band that made them, in 2016, I would have been so happy about it you wouldn't believe it.
It ends with current LP closer “Superheated” ; presumably chosen for the chorus refrain of “It's Over, It's Over.”, which is both somewhat deflating for the previous two hours of euphoria, and ill placed ; it serves as a epilogue, not a climax, and the joyous celebration of the best New Order gigs is somewhat diluted. Unlike other bands of their age, made of ever changing lineups, useless albums, woefully predictable setlists of the same 17 songs that never change, New Order are no nostalgia act. What a beautiful future it could have been.
Your Silent Face
People On The High Line
Bizarre Love Triangle
Waiting For The Sirens Call
The Perfect Kiss
Love Will Tear Us Apart