Craig Austin travelled to the Brixton Academy to witness the evergreen New Order perform tracks such as ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’.
It’s always a sign that things aren’t quite what they seem when a recently reunited band feels the need to list the names of its constituent members in all of its pre-tour publicity. Essentially, it means one of two things; either that a financially-compromised guitarist has failed to convince his former compadres of the potentially lucrative short-term benefits of giving it ‘one last shot’, or that the relations between its original members are so virulently toxic that the spectre of potentially bitter legal action remains ever-present.
Tonight’s show falls into the latter category; a joyous celebration of one of Britain’s finest ever bands, its towering back catalogue forever glittering like a Swarovski disco-ball, ultimately tempered by the absence of its original & belligerent bassist. It’s love that’s ultimately torn them apart, but not the kind of devotion played out in the lyrics of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and ‘Love Vigilantes’. This is dark love, broken love, a poisonous trail of betrayal, fury and vengeance. Like ecstasy never happened.
It’s with this backdrop in mind that I find myself joining the excitable beery throng of the chunky Stone Island-clad demographic best described as ‘gentlemen of a certain age’. This is a world where for two nights only youth is exhumed, dreams are revisited and T-shirt sizes commence at ‘L’; and that’s all perfectly fine because regardless of the paunches, the greying temples and (sadly, now) the internecine hostility, New Order have always been a band of epic timelessness.
When Bernard/Barney Sumner/Albrecht takes to the stage and milks the acclaim it is with the gravitas of a man who understands the degree to which his band’s body of work soundtracks the formative years of a huge chunk of tonight’s audience, and for those whose unlikely passage took them from raincoats to glow-sticks in only six years that experience was truly seismic. Stephen Morris’s lopsided perma-grin remains reassuringly intact but it is the poignant return of Gillian Gilbert, an offering of solace for those still mourning or plainly uncomfortable with the absence of Peter Hook and his thousand-yard bass-strap, that truly warms the heart of many within this expectant audience. For a band so resolutely Mancunian, and for whom the very idea of signing to a record label called London proved intensely problematic in itself, the capital has never failed to clutch the band close to its swollen bosom and it is in this spirit that the awkward pre-publicity for this tour and the resultant bickering that has inevitable played out within the media swiftly begin to ebb away.
Some things remain resolutely the same, regardless. ‘Blue Monday’’s spaghetti-western-meets-Blade Runner bass-line remains a touchstone of 20th-century pop culture and when the opening bars of the stellar synth-rush that is ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ kick in it seems almost quaint now that the Balearic party adventure of 1989’s ‘Technique’ felt like such a huge shift in approach at the time.
Inevitably though, it’s the now-iconic songs that occupy the immediate periods on either side of Ian Curtis’s death that resonate most acutely. In this environment ‘Ceremony’, a single that at the time might as well have been released on grey slate rather than black vinyl, takes on an almost celebratory sheen; its recurrent harmonics prompting raised arms and plastic pints rather than bowed heads and navel-gazing.
‘Transmission’, an anti-anthem that many associates with Curtis more keenly even than ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, is played in a suitably ‘New Order’ manner; as an encore, but without intro, comment, fanfare or mawkishness. It’s living history in the hands of a band completely at ease with their past and their legacy, and it verges on the statesmanlike. For many, this is a band that will always encapsulate the multi-faceted nature of our gloriously dysfunctional nation – the grit, the drama, the spit and the polish. For every melancholy-drenched ‘Elegia’, this evening’s intro, there is the euphoric burst of ‘Regret’ or ‘Temptation’. For every kiss, a bruise.
Tonight, the ragged, sloping, sticky-floored Academy acts as the magnificent focal point where all of those points converge. That irresistible sweet spot where glitter hits concrete.