The estrangement of bassist Peter Hook from his Joy Division/New Order bandmates in recent years has been heartbreaking for fans to witness. Whatever the root causes of the breakdown between Hook and his childhood friend, New Order frontman Bernard Sumner (which seems to have festered since at least the late 80s), both camps have settled into a frosty, tit for tat series of public pronouncements, recordings and concerts, laying claim to the legacy of their music, and Joy Division’s in particular.
Joy Division songs had been present in the sets of Sumner and drummer Steven Morris’ group Bad Lieutenant in recent years, and the group have since effectively mutated into a Hook-less version of New Order, carrying that music with them. For his part, the aggrieved Hook has set about colonising the band’s history through buying up the old Factory Records headquarters and Haçienda club name, publishing volumes of his memoirs and touring Joy Division’s albums with his band The Light. Such brinkmanship will surely be exacerbated next year when The Light turn their attentions to New Order’s first two albums, with concerts in London and Manchester in January.
Tonight, though, it’s the turn of Joy Division’s 1979 debut ‘Unknown Pleasures’, a masterpiece of forward looking, post-punk darkness. The original’s neon-lit drama, and the shadow of singer Ian Curtis’ later suicide, makes for a disturbing listen even after all this time, but its legacy has brought legions of old fans out to the Concorde tonight (very many more than there were at Bad Lieutenant’s show at Digital the other year).
Hook and The Light start off with the dread call of ‘Dead Souls’, a backdrop of ‘Unknown Pleasures’’ now classic monochrome artwork behind them. The Light are younger men, dressed down, heads down, concentrating and respectful. Hook himself, in dubious Siouxsie & The Banshees t-shirt, takes lead vocals, roaring through several early Joy Division songs, foot on the monitors as he adds flourishes of his cornerstone melodic bass to the band’s sound.
The ‘Unknown Pleasures’ segment starts, logically, with ‘Disorder’ (still one of our very favourite, thrilling and evocative opening tracks to any album) and the show, at first cautious, takes off from there. There’s no communication from Hook or the band, just the whole album played in sequence at full energy and volume. Joy Division were famously unhappy with the late Martin Hannett’s atmospheric production on the original record, complaining it blunted the band’s live sound, but time has evidently mellowed the ever-sentimental Hook’s feelings towards it. Although full on, The Light’s reinterpretation is more faithful to the LP than contemporary Joy Division concert recordings, Hannett’s fogged keyboards and haunted sound effects blended into tonight’s mix. It’s a faithful celebration of both band and producer, with only the strobe lights that kick in during ‘She’s Lost Control’ feeling misplaced in view of Curtis’ own epilepsy.
‘Unknown Pleasures’’ desolate finale ‘I Remember Nothing’ is a fitting way to end an album, but perhaps not this sort of tribute concert. Hook and The Light’s first encore draws deeply from Joy Division’s even more intense, claustrophobic follow up ‘Closer’, from the grim ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ to the eerie, funeral ‘The Eternal’. To relieved cheers from the whole room, Hook can’t help breaking into his first smile of the night after ‘Twenty Four Hours’, with a genuinely choked “I’m lost for words…” at the crowd’s response.
A second encore finally celebrates Joy Division as the major band they were on the verge of becoming, before Curtis’ suicide stopped their ascent cold. The magnificent, under-rated ‘Isolation’ leads into ‘Transmission’, dedicated, at last, to both the crowd and Ian Curtis (“God bless him”). And lastly, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, Joy Division’s too-late crossover hit, the one song that ultimately outgrew the band and the myth of their dead figurehead. It’s an anthem for the audience, but also serves as a lament for the eventual fragmentation of the band, that something so good that just can’t function no more.
Joy Division are dead. Long live Joy Division.
Concorde2, Wednesday 28th December 2012
Words by Stuart Huggett