The event: Peter Hook & The Light honor the ‘Substance’ albums by New Order and Joy Division. May 5, 2018 at the Majestic Theatre in downtown Madison, WI. Before the details of my review, let’s contemplate the history behind this concert tour.
Bassist Hook has admitted that when he, Bernard Sumner, and Stephen Morris formed the initial version of Joy Division, named Warsaw, they wanted to be “punks” after seeing the Sex Pistols perform a concert in Manchester, England. Hook became a punk first, and a musician second. Doomed vocalist Ian Curtis joined his childhood friends, and the effect that the moody, literate, and epileptic Curtis brought to the music propelled the group towards loyal fandom and critical acclaim. I recall Joy Division as one of the first bands to earn the moniker “post-punk”, which is still a descriptive genre term used today. But, what does “post-punk” mean? As far as I can discern, the gist of it is to carry forth the D.I.Y. and F.U. non-conformist sensibilities of punk rock, and forge your own musical identity, which is most assuredly what Joy Division accomplished.
Of course, after the 1980 suicide of Ian Curtis at age 23, everything changed. Hook and the other musicians carried on as New Order, and while their first album “Movement” still had some of the Joy Division feel, the same emotion could never be achieved without Curtis. As Hook has said, “Joy Division is very intense and quite dark, and New Order is very light, poppy, [and] commercial”. A bit of a tale of two cities, one could say.
And, that’s how this concert was. Wisely, Hook and his current musical compatriots separate the show in to two sets, so as to keep the distinct personality of both his previous bands intact. The opening set of music celebrated New Order’s synth-laden accessible pop sensibilities of dance club favorites such as “Blue Monday”, “Confusion”, “Thieves Like Us”, and “True Faith”. During this portion of the show I noticed a general light-hearted “party” atmosphere in the mostly full Majestic, and was transported briefly back in time to the clubs of the mid-to-late 1980s with its brilliant pastel-colored clothing and statuesque hairstyles. Fortunately, these fashion trends have not experienced resurgence in 2018!
The Light consists of a drummer, keyboardist, guitarist, and bass player. Hook’s role during the New Order set was more relegated to bass playing, often utilizing his Shergold 6-string bass to play higher-toned melodies while the other bassist laid down the lower notes as the foundation to the songs. The Light’s guitarist handled most of the vocals on the New Order material, and the keyboardist was central to the overall sound, which often featured pre-programmed electronic percussion, synthesizer parts, and backing vocals. I don’t think many other attendees noticed, as most were dancing madly with cocktails raised high!
After a very short intermission, the group was back, and the “Atmosphere” (see what I did there?) changed… it didn’t take long to notice the shift in the audience reaction. The Joy Division material seemed to resonate more with the males in attendance, with head bangs, fists pumping, and well… the carefree disco-club vibe was emphatically left by the wayside. A contemplative and melancholy song like “Heart And Soul” just doesn’t initiate booty-shaking, if you get my drift! But this second set focusing on the Joy Division catalog was a million times more in line with my own sensibilities, and nailed the validation of why I felt compelled to witness this show. Truthfully, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be seeing a founding member of Joy Division on stage performing classics like “These Days”, “Shadowplay”, or “Dead Souls”. Hook assumed the lead vocalist role for this J.D. set, and while he is no Ian Curtis, he did the songs justice. I would’ve liked the vocal a bit louder in the sound mix though.
A real kick in the pants came relatively early in to the second set, when Peter Hook & The Light went all the way back to the Warsaw days, performing the songs “Warsaw” and “Leaders Of Men” with punk verve and swagger. This REALLY got the energy level soaring. And in reality, several songs performed (“Transmission” as an example) are probably best known for their recordings with Joy Division, but began during the group’s earlier Warsaw incarnation. I recall learning the bass guitar parts to Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in my youthful days of attempting punk rock musicianship. While not terribly hard parts to learn, they are still essential and compelling bass lines that define those compositions, and seeing the man himself, Peter Hook, rip it on those two songs near the end of the show, was priceless.
Throughout the show, Hook, who obviously works out and is quite fit, was wearing a white t-shirt stating the simple phrase, “They f*ck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do”. After the final notes of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, Hook triumphantly lifted his bass guitar high above his head, gave ample thanks to us enthusiastic Madisonians, and then peeled off this sweat soaked t-shirt before pitching it in to the audience. The lights came up, the credits rolled, the beers were drained, and out in to the night air we went.
You can also listen to Karolina’s interview with Hook here!