PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT : Camden Roundhouse 18 December 2017
I’ve long been a vocal – and possibly outspoken – critic of Peter Hook’s touring of Joy Division albums. His current band, The Light, are effectively Monaco, and whilst he’s managed to play near enough every song recorded by Joy Division and New Order from 1977 to 1987, The Light have still managed to release absolutely zero original songs in their seven years together. It’s a shame to be damning, but I miss the songs that could have been written, the albums I could have heard, and the new material that would pull Hook away from a comfortable self-reverence to continuing to be a valid artistic identity. Taking a mild break from his two year tour of Joy Division/New Order’s “Substance” albums, tonight he reverts back to an evening of Joy Division. Ish. Revisiting Joy Division so prolifically still feels a bit… unclean, even if Hook – and the other members of the band – are right to be proud of the work they achieved then. If say, Krist Novoselic was to sing an evening of Nirvana songs, would that be … palatable? But then, I always feel very uncomfortable about monetising the work of someone in such acute despair.
The opening set is New Order’s “Movement” album, in full, and in order – which Hook hasn’t done in three years. Unfairly disowned by the band after around 1986, it’s a good album that sonically and stylistically is the awkward transition from Joy Division to New Order, with lyrics that just don’t match the material. On stage, these songs are stronger and better than the recorded versions – and it is a rare treat to see songs like “Doubts Even Here” live : songs New Order themselves haven’t played in a long time. With the benefit of time, the songs are better than history might tell you. Not great, but few bands make a debut album as promising, even if those songs are a debut, and, at the same time, the last breaths of what was left of Joy Division the band were learning to grow beyond. This set also fits the mood of the show, which is not so much a celebration than a remembrance.
After a short break, we move to the history : Hook performs “Digital” from 1978, then Joy Division’s “Closer” ; again in full and in order. What is perhaps most obvious to me is that Joy Division held in their hands an alternate future which was, and will always be, unknowable, but verged on a greatness that comes along once in a generation. For a long time I avoided these Joy Division-themed shows, because they felt wrong and somehow prematurely monetising the past – ten years on, with Hook over sixty, and having seen a few of the New Order-themed shows, I’ve relaxed a little, but to me the New Order shows are better. New Order are a band I remember from the time, a band I have genuine nostalgia for, and a band whose music, and sonic invention, I enjoy more. Joy Division are a great band, but they are a history lesson, and not a memory. Joy Division songs also, for their strength – but which is also a weakness – lack light, and present nothing but shade. The only joy in the band was in their name. By the time to you get to side two of “Closer” it feels like an audio apocalypse of despair. Not a celebration ; Songs like “The Eternal”, “Wilderness”, “Decades”, are recitations, not celebrations.
It’s a long way from Joy Division though. The passion and intensity that that band exuded from stage (on the basis of what I can recall from old VHS tapes, and, of course, the LP’s) are not here : there’s something different, more measured, and Hooky is dedicated and proud of his work with that band – and rightly so – but he’s not the same man he was then, let alone the same presence anyone else was. His voice is similar – and nearer – to Ian Curtis’ than Bernard Sumner, so it sounds sonically very close, but … and there will be a lot of buts in this… The Light are not Joy Division. The band play the material precisely, and faithfully, but it misses the spark that lights the flame. This show is a slow burn, and not a forest fire. And that’s not to criticise. We’re older, wiser. We can’t be the same. Everyone and everything changes. And playing around 100 3 hour shows a year can be a big task by any standard.
What is undeniable is that in three years, two albums and a handful of singles, Joy Division achieved more than some of their peers ever did in a lifetime. And Joy Division never devalued their early promise by turning into the bloated and irrelevant Simple Minds of 2017. The Light are probably the closest and most authentic recreation of Joy Division you can ever experience now, but they’re not the same. And in some ways, Hook knows it – even though at one point he says “Back when we were called Joy Division…”, implying that The Light are the same band. They’re not.
The band then rampages through Joy Divisions debut “Unknown Pleasures”. Given that this is only the fourth time the band have played most of these songs this year, and they can play 106 songs with little rehearsal, it’s no surprise than occasionally they get a bit wrong : such as they do when “Day Of The Lords” falls to bits. Proves its live.
This is less a recreation of the live Joy Division – which was all fighting to be heard over the suburban din as a great rock band – and more of the records which are more deft, considered, and timeless. By the time we get to the encore, it’s Mark Lanegan singing for “Atmosphere” and “Dead Souls”, which is unexpected, and his voice is gloriously rich on these songs. Those two songs were the high watermark of Joy Division, and I’ve been watching New Order, and their component members, perform these songs for 20 years now – and its never not important and powerful.
The final two songs are perhaps, the ‘hits’ as such. The under-rated ‘final’ Joy Division song, of “Ceremony”, and a final, expected, lighters-in-the-air romp through your Frank-Sinatra-gone-punka-singalong of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. It’s a powerful and keen three hours that sees the band perform three whole albums, and six additional singles. By the end though, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is a song I don’t think I need to hear at every show. Good as it is, it felt whilst this was probably the closest you can ever get to experiencing a modern day Joy Division, it wasn’t in any way a substitute, but a momentary glance inside of what it might have been like.
This is a glimpse.
“This is not the greatest song in the world – yeah. It’s a tribute.”