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“It’s been an interesting week,” Peter Hook jibed from the stage at the Music Box Wednesday night in a barely veiled reference to recent news that New Order was reforming for a series of benefit shows without him — a move that left some longtime fans aghast. (Said Hook in a statement on September 9: “Everyone knows that New Order without Peter Hook is like Queen without Freddie Mercury, U2 without The Edge, Sooty without Sweep!”)
The ever durable post-punk bass player was in town with his new band, The Light, featuring his son Jack Bates on dual bass duty, to perform the classic Joy Division albums Closer and Unknown Pleasures in their entirety. The crowd: faithful but far from full, as the upstairs balcony at the 1,300-capacity venue was shut down completely.
It stands to reason that everyone in attendance was intimately familiar with the Joy Division legacy. The predecessor to New Order featured Hook, guitarist Bernard Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris, but was defined by the band’s iconic singer Ian Curtis and his descent into seizures and illness, which eventually led to his suicide in May 1980, just months after the completion of Closer and days before their first U.S. tour. Moby had long been in the know; he played in a Joy Division-inspired post-punk band in his early days on the east coast. Along with Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell, the two were the evening’s guest performers.
After a slightly shaky start mix-wise, the father-son combo sounded more than appropriate filling out Hook’s signature sound. Where so-called “tribute” shows are usually a dodgy proposition, this one avoided the usual pitfalls. Hook’s band never strayed far from the original arrangements and amped up the energy with guitarist Nat Watson as MVP of the night. Looking stern and barely breaking in intensity, he transitioned back and forth from delicate ambience to full-on punk rock pummeling.
Rising to the challenge of doing justice to Curtis’s powerful low vocal delivery, Hook managed the tricky proposition of embodying the singing style without turning it into a cruel parody for those who just wished that Ian could have been there. Bringing an earthiness and immediacy to the lyrics took away some of the cerebral melancholy that is both compelling and off-putting about Closer‘s songs. And while the shadow of Curtis’ suicide hangs heavy over all of Joy Division, Hook and the Light’s set pushed away some of the gloom, reminding all in attendance that there were real people inside all of Closer‘s dystopian production, and maybe even a little hope.
At several points during the 19-song set, Hook looked over at his son clearly impressed with his playing. “Keep that up and you’ll get yourself a job in New Order,” Hook joked with Bates after a stellar version of “Passover.”
The first of two guest vocalists, Perry Farrell sauntered onstage looking like Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever. Singing the pounding classic “Isolation” Farrell’s performance seemed to finally kick things off sonically and crowd wise, even though he had to keep referring to the lyrics on the ground near his feet.
For his cue, Moby hopped up from the audience to sing on “Colony” and “A Means To An End.” Showing genuine appreciation and respect, his conjuring of Curtis’s intensity and focus sent more than a few chills through the crowd. It was easy to see how much of an inspiration and influence Joy Division has been for him and he put his all into paying it back. After hugging it out with Hook, Moby jumped back down into the crowd.
After finishing up Closer‘s tracks, Moby rejoined the band for an encore: a powerful rendition of “Transmission,” then melted back into the crowd while Hook and the Light finished the night with the anthemic “Atmosphere,” finally going out with a “bang” (Hook’s words) on “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
Said Moby after the show: “Singing Joy Division songs is a dream come true for me.”
On Friday, Hook takes on Joy Division’s far more energetic debut, Unknown Pleasures at L.A’s El Rey. Moby will guest for a second time and with Wednesday’s show still buzzing, tickets are nearly sold out. Hook and the Light then take the trek to 10 additional cities, traveling as far south as Mexico City and as far north as Montreal.
Watch a clip of “Transmission” below and see the set list and additional tour dates after the jump…
Peter Hook and the Light set list:
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