Thursday, 19 November 2015

Review of New Order, Brixton Academy, November 17, 2015

We’ve grown up together, New Order and I. Watching them live isn’t like watching any other band. 
We used to hang out in The Hacienda when I was a teenager. They owned the place and I was queuing four-deep at their bar for an overpriced can of Red Stripe or something.
Whatever happened to that carefree, red-haired Mancunian with blue glasses and an unjoined-up love of New Order, Yazoo, Howard Jones and the Human League?
Well, he became a careworn, silver-haired Londoner with rimless glasses and an unrequited love of New Order, the Human League and The Go! Team.
So trekking to Brixton to see them again is, to use the happy cliche, a personal pilgrimage. Walking from the godforsaken tube station to the Academy via a couple of pints at the Prince of Wales has definite echoes of walking from the 86 bus stop in Piccadilly to the Hacienda via a couple of pints at the Briton's Protection. 
There's even a genuinely warm, alcohol-fuelled glow of nostalgia in the inexplicably long delay before the band's appearance, the exhilarating price of a pint of p*ss at the Academy and the ear-numbing volume level that I never liked even when I was 18.
But hang on a minute. Here they come. And they may look a bit past it like the rest of us, but don't you agree that they sound like the past, the present and the not-too-distant future?
They’ve used their years and years of global stagecraft to become the masters of the disguised intro. Evergreen Stephen kicks off the beats, static Gillian layers on the synths, happily beer-bellied Bernard dad-dances away self-consciously front and centre
Then in comes the Hooky bass line minus the bitterly estranged Hooky. Could it be Temptation? Or 586? The roar of a thousand 40-somethings rises as the melody kicks it. And it turns out it’s the peerless Bizarre Love Triangle. Remember the lounge-style acoustic version that duo played every night in the Ko Samui restaurant in Thailand back in 2012? I do.
Keeps you guessing. Keeps you smiling. Keeps you foot tapping.
Then the Crystal guitar riff growls into view. Remember that time we heard it while wallowing in a hot tub in Hyde Park ten years ago? I do. What was that all about?
Then Ceremony’s siren-like opening melody swirls with the dry ice around the Academy. Still sounds as urgent as that time my brother and I heard it rammed at the front of the Hacienda in ’83.
And Perfect Kiss, the song that sounded as far away from Joy Division as New York dance clubs were from Manchester when I bought it from a record shop in Blackpool after cadging a couple of quid off Dad on a seaside trip in ‘85.
Then the gentle bickering of Your Silent Face Tardises me instantly to the day I played it unheard at home for the first time as a teen and got a tut from Mum at Bernard’s very Mancunian lyrical demand, "So why don’t you p*ss off." It could have been directed straight at Peter Hook. 
Ah, Hooky. The bearded, Mancunian elephant in the room. Last seen singing his own bitter, gruff and ready versions of these very songs at the Victorious Festival in Portsmouth under an August monsoon. His versions were raw, less polished, more retro. The New Order versions are fuller, grander and retain the smiley-faced freshness of the originals. 
It helps that the Brixton gig is bathed in a spectacular light show while poor old Hooky’s festival slot was sandwiched between the truly awful Laura Mvula and the no longer Magic Numbers. 
I love both incarnations. Just love them. But Peter Hook and the Light may be living solely off the past.
In contrast in south London, up pops La Roux’s fresh-faced Elly Jackson to sing on a couple of new numbers. A smarter pop philosopher than me could have some fun charting the electronic dance lineage from Depeche Mode via Blue Monday to Elly's own, brilliant Bulletproof.
At the eleventh hour, the three-song encore rightly remembers the past and recalls the missing. Ian Curtis’s voice can never be replaced on Love Will Tear Us Apart and Atmosphere (remember listening to that one over and over again in your girlfriend’s bedroom back in ’83?) so black and white photos on the big screen will have to do.
And finally, mightily, Blue Monday - the chest-thumping ghost of Hooky alive like a spinning head in an exorcism. It may be over-familiar but it still feels as futuristic as the famous floppy disc sleeve that sheathed its mighty 12 inches 32 years ago.
Too soon it's midweek tube-dash time and a final thank you to London and Manchester from Bernard: “You’ve been great  - thanks for all your support over the years.”
Music complete. Memories complete.