THE CHARITABLE VIEW
“OK, so Bernard and Peter won't exchange Christmas cards for awhile? I still hang my bass near my knees, just like Hooky did in 19-eighty-somethin', when I saw 'im at Par For The Course, or was it the Dog 'N' Duck? Eh, I just wanna hear the tyooons, man, the tunes...”
THE UNCHARITABLE VIEW
“God, he's still overdriving that Clone Pedal, twanging those high strings, dragging that back catalog on his back? He's charging...how much? He's gonna sing all the songs? He couldn't carry a tune in a basket! Eh, think I'll pass on this one...”}
Mind you, I'm only paraphrasing, but I suspect the above-named comments constitute a fair representation of the dueling thoughts on Peter Hook's latest venture – in this case, returning to America and playing Joy Division's second album (CLOSER) in its entirety, plus selected nuggets from the band's back catalog.
One person's nostalgia is someone els's golden opportunity. Gary “Mani” Mounfield evidently forgot this principle in abusing his Twitter account last fall to swear off hanging with “talentless nostalgia fuckwit whores” – such as one P. Hook, whom he accused of “dragging his mates cadaver round the world getting himself paid.”
In fairness, Mani eventually apologized, but even those testy pronouncements didn't prevent him from rejoining his former cohorts, the Stone Roses, for a series of shows that should presumably pay a bit more than minimum wage. The moral of the story? Never believe what musicians say publicly, because business is business, and rock 'n' roll has no pension plan.
Going into this gig, however, I had few qualms. Hook was one-quarter of Joy Division, so he has as much right to play those songs as anyone (including old cohorts Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, whose latest band, Bad Lieutenant, also played Joy Division and New Order songs live). I mainly wondered...how's he going to pull off the vocal bit, since he's not exactly known for that sort of thing?
The answer came quickly, after the surprise opening blast of “Incubation,” a rare Joy Division instrumental – followed by the darker pastures of “Dead Souls,” where Hook effectively channeled Ian Curtis's angry-young-man-vocal persona. This trend held up well through a pair of obscure Warsaw nuggets (“Autosuggestion,” “From Safety To Where?”), and the CLOSER set, where drummer Tom Kehoe really came to the fore – surging across the tom-toms during “Atrocity Exhibition,” cracking the snare for “Isolation,” and deftly steering the churning tempo changes in “24 Hours.”
Hook and his bass-playing son, Jack Bates, meshed well together as a duo – it was impossible to tell where one began and the other left off (even if dear old Dad doesn't sing and play at the same time – which strikes some observers as annoying, but is charming to me, having dealt with the issue as a novice low-ender). Keyboardist Andy Poole fought to be heard at times, but stuck all the atmospheric flourishes in all the right places (notably on “The Eternal,” one of my favorite later-era Joy Division songs). Guitarist Nat Watson channeled his inner Sumner on “Colony” and “Disorder,” which bristled with a ferocity only hinted on their original recorded incarnations.
As promised, former Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan came out to lend his trademark nasal sneer for powerful surges through “Transmission,” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”; had the night ended there, the crowd would have gone home with a smile. However, Hook and company trotted out for one more encore (“Atmosphere”/”Ceremony”), that closed the gig on a high note, since the latter song bridged the transition from Joy Division to New Order. (Hook couldn't resist poking fun at his colleagues on that score, telling Bates: “You'd better get your shit together, mate, or you might have to take that bass playing job in New Order.”)
While the band stuck to the recorded versions, they brought enough of their personalities to the proceedings – enabling songs like “Isolation,” “A Means To An End” and “Decades” to sound larger than life in this smallish setting. This wasn't some paint-by-numbers set, but one with enough nuance to make it memorable on its own terms. For the punters who plunked down their money, this night was about as close as they'll ever get to seeing the original Joy Division, whose 1980 American tour – as Hook reminded us – was due to begin in Chicago.
This night also marked the band's final American gig, which added an edge (as opposed to the “mushy middle” of a tour, when that sense of collective energy sometimes seems to flag). Where Hook and his crew go from here remains to be seen – even if that means eventually moving on from the past, since Joy Division's career was so brief. This lineup is definitely tight and proficient enough for the task, so we'll just have to see what they end up doing. (Hook has spoken of doing other album shows, such as New Order's first effort, MOVEMENT, which suffered from a half-baked Martin Hannett production; I'd like to hear what he does with that!)
On this night, however, everything seemed to fall together in the right place, but I couldn't leave without having the man sign my copy of Monaco's first CD – my favorite Hook side project, hands down – and his memoir of the Hacienda, HOW NOT TO RUN A CLUB. I couldn't help but tell him: “You know, I was involved in something like that – we made every fuckin' mistake that you guys did, and then some!” As you can imagine, we shared a good laugh about that one.
Incubation/Dead Souls/Autosuggestion/From Safety To Where/The Atrocity Exhibition/Isolation/Passover/Colony/A Means To An End/HeartOn & Soul/The Eternal/24 Hours/Decades/Digital/Disorder/Shadowplay/Transmisson/Love Will Tear Us Apart/Atmosphere/Ceremony