Written by: Dave Cantrell
Photo by Geoff Tischman
Beyond the sheer bountiful enjoyment of hearing this material – among the most vaunted of a most vaunted time – performed with a clearly genuine, quite loving respect and a boisterous vigor to match, there’s much to be gleaned from listening to these latest additions to Peter Hook and The Light’s live recordings captured during their globe-spanning, ongoing tour, especially if, as we can’t help but recommend, you take them in the covered LPs’ order of release rather than by concert date.
To begin with, for anyone curious as to what it felt like to go from the dark compulsions and intensity of post-punk to the budding of New Romantics et al, with rave culture creeping over the dewy dawn’s horizon, this latest spate from the Hooky camp may be the ideal guide. Because of the depth and devotion on display throughout, the albums taken together, even stacked as they are with ancillary singles and B-sides and such, are more audio primer than mere soundtrack, giving eyewitness context to the buzz and tumult up to and following Ian’s suicide, when the surviving members would pull their shell-shocked selves together and become New Order, a band that would ultimately replace its own shadow by embracing, however artfully, the shimmer of the dancefloor.
These records also, to no one’s surprise, confirm our Mr Hook as one ballsy chap, having for years now the ‘fuck it’ cheek to take this historic material on the road in the face of enmity and abandonment from his former bandmates (it should also be pointed out, due these shows’ marathon duration – the two NO-related discs are sourced from one Dublin gig that in total runs to 32 tracks -that he’s additionally a man in possession of an enviable, near-mythic store of energy for such an ancient geezer, which I get to say since all of 36 days separate our birthdates). Thirdly, and perhaps most saliently, these four releases, taken together or separately, speak to the almost radical idea that nostalgia, rather than being stuffed into a predictable, paint-by-number box built out of stiltedness and cheap sentiment, can in the right hands be a restorative, reinvigorating force. Indeed, ironic though it may to a certain degree be given at least the Joy Division sides, there’s something of the ringingly life-affirming flowing from these records. But then, again, such would be the inevitable result when the prideful respect felt for these songs is applied, as it is here, with such devotional verve it becomes a form of pure joy.
Much of that, naturally, is down to The Light, attacking these songs without a sign of overwrought, reverence-based delicacy while simultaneously seeming to inhabit their very shells. And yes, in fact it was a brilliant, depth-ensuring decision to include as part of that ensemble a second bassist but it was one made all the more resonant by it being none other than Jack Bates, Hook’s own son. The results, across all four discs, whether with Nat Watson on guitar for the earlier dates (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) or with David Potts for the later New Order gigs – Andy Poole on keys etc and drummer Paul Kehoe completing the group – destroy before they can be formed any snarky comments about this being, regardless of personnel, a mere tribute band. Instead, the five of them grab this stuff by its every sinew and tendon, possessing it as a living beast in the full flush of time. They are, in a word, present.
As for the records and their tracklistings, well, hell, we all know these songs pretty much up one side and down the other, don’t we? But perhaps, against the long twisted saga of tragedy, resurrection, and internecine fallout, we occasionally need reminding that this run of albums, spanning but four short years the heady headlong rush of which had them flying past in an even more breathless blur than usual, represents as thrilling a quadriptych as any band has managed, rivaling the Stones’ Beggars-through-Exile run (also over a 4-year span) and precious few others (though, whatever you do, don’t ask the internet about this), a fact that both the needed name change and the albums’ pored-over familiarity may obscure. While New Order trafficked more openly in chart-seeking strategies, it should be strongly stated – and not forgotten – that, despite their darkness, their brooding Dostoevskyism, Joy Division songs are also not only pop songs but pop songs in excelsis, their sonorous Hannett-tinted soundscapes almost unfairly rich in hooks, melody, and uncannily timeless progressions seemingly designed to bring one to one’s knees. It’s not simply the goth-romantic moroseness of their backstory that will have those tracks haunting our consciousness for the rest of our days.
None of which makes these particular recordings of historic importance but for fans of that time, of those two bands, these four packages at the very least border on the essential. Though not a natural-born Ian Curtis (or Bernard) mimic, Hook does more than a serviceable job at bestowing these songs with the vivid believability of someone that’s lived with them for over three decades. A bit more of a shirty growl in places, not unexpected given who we’re talking about, but by some measure the tone is rather solidly working class, respect with a side of joviality, periodic “Yeah!“s betraying an innate exuberance that leavens, at the one end, some of the weighty, monochramatic glower of the Joy Division material while, at the other, warming the sang froid 80’s coolness that New Order’s club-destined releases, as intended, couldn’t help but embody (and, on cue – and I’m not making this up – Hook in my headphones just now let loose a hearty “Yeah!” at “The Village”‘s first instrumental break). While an air of somber acknowledgement unavoidably hangs above the Closer show, recorded on the never unobserved date of May 18th, the takeaway from these recordings is that at the heart of these tours, their impetus even, is a spirit not of tribute but of undying celebration.