Before the third song of New Order‘s March 7th show at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, Australia, the British band’s singer-guitarist Bernard Sumner thanked the audience for the biblical rain pelting the city. “It makes us feel right at home,” he quipped, referring to his country’s famously inclement weather. “We like it when it pisses down. Now,” Sumner added, “can you make it a little colder?”
New Order then performed its 1981 debut single, “Ceremony,” recorded shortly after the group’s transformation from Joy Division, following the May, 1980 suicide of singer Ian Curtis. “Ceremony” was a Joy Division song, never formally recorded by that band. But it was easy to hear, even at this remove, how much of the old quartet remained in the early New Order – especially in Sumner’s voice, an overcast baritone practically cloned from Curtis – and how far they would come, so quickly, across the disco floor. At the end of their 80-minute Sydney set, New Order played 1982’s “Temptation,” a perfect mirror-ball storm of pneumatic rhythm, vocal-hook command and throaty bass-guitar melody: all blunt predictions of “Blue Monday,” their 1983 commercial breakthrough and tonight’s first encore. New Order’s great leap forward took less than two years, and they covered it here – with the additional slinky menace of “586,” from ’83’s Power, Corruption and Lies – in surprising detail.
A Newer Order
New Order’s Sydney concert was part of an unexpected reunion launched last fall minus bassist Peter Hook. (The band’s only U.S. show, so far, is a March 23rd appearance in Miami, at the Ultra Music Festival.) In 2007, Hook summarily declared the group was no more; Morris and Sumner soon announced otherwise. Hook has since toured with a group performing complete Joy Division albums and complained that current New Order bassist, Tom Chapman, is “lip-syncing” his melodies and imitating his legs-apart stage posture.
Sumner and the other founding member, drummer Stephen Morris, have responded with these shows of defiance. Chapman played Hook’s bass lines faithfully, without mimicry, and the band summoned vintage force for “The Perfect Kiss,” from 1985, and 1986’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.” Morris accented his chase-scene programming with gun-shot snare bangs. On keyboards, Morris’ wife, Gillian Gilbert, glazed the propulsion with a few notes, evened into long sustain.
But New Order also seemed diminished by the fracas, less like a band than an act of highly-polished revenge. Everything sounded right – but not quite whole. This is a group expert at reinvention. It may also, finally, be beyond healing. The second encore was Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It is still harrowing majesty. It also sounded too close to the truth, again, for the band playing it.