It’s 40 years since New Order reconfigured their career – already in its second version if you consider their emergence from Joy Division – with Blue Monday, their biggest hit and the song that put them at the centre of pop culture. (How centred? Nearly 20 years after this, Kylie Minogue mashed her Can’t Get You Out Of My Head with Blue Monday and it was like giants pashing.)
Wind Back Wednesday turns its eyes to New Order in 2016 when the band in its third (?) iteration – minus the ejected, mouthy but crucial bassplayer, Peter Hook – arrived for Vivid Live and a series of special shows at Sydney’s Opera House. One version would be band alone; the other version, band with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Both were reviewed, and this was the first.
NEW ORDER (part 1)
Opera House, June 1, 2016
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING and facts can lie.
This show began with Bernard Sumner telling us that “we’re players on a stage, with roles already scripted”, for a group approaching its fifth decade, and ended with him declaring "it's over, it's over", as it was, indeed, over. Work is work then and here are the parameters. Right?
While “new kids” Phil Cunningham on guitars/keys and, especially, Tom Chapman on I’m-not-Hooky-and-that’s-ok bass were audience-busy, even dancing and – hello! – smiling, Stephen Morris was head down, all business all night up the back, and Gillian Gilbert matched him for seeming imperviousness to the outbreaks of middle aged mayhem only metres in front of her Roland Fantom.
In keeping with this sense of practicalities, I could note there were 19 songs, one of which was a “cover” (by some band who may have been named after a Wombats song) and seven of which were from their most recent album. I could tell you a decent spread of a 36 year (on and off) career was canvassed and the show ran for two hours more or less. And I could confirm the audience enjoyed themselves after a slow start, both on and off stage.
But practicalities be damned, this wasn’t work at all, not least because Sumner has become the kind of frontman who chats with ease, raises his arms in gratitude and triumph, and giggles. (Who would have predicted that 36 years ago? But then who would have thought a tour would one day include alternate nights of New Order augmented by the Australian Chamber Orchestra?)
This was a glorious evening of the weird and uniquely New Order sense of sunshine melancholy, that combination of a wistful, pained even, look back while dancing right now and for hours yet, which feels not so much English as perfectly Manchester.
Here simple, almost prosaic lyrics, and dry, almost detached singing, leave space for our emotions to suggest much more (or less). Here projected images of the apparatus of 1970s police states and street rebellions precede brilliantly vibrant and e-triggering graphics.
Here too tempers and tempos move from a trans-Europe express to a costa del sol beach party to a New York bacchanal to a Detroit machine house, mostly driven by the incongruous-turned-defining lead instrument, that high, questing, bass.
Here, in other words, major fun was had.
By the time the newer Plastic and the older The Perfect Kiss had bridged 30 years of techno and set some creaky bodies into muscle memory moves, even recalcitrants who had stuck fast to their seats, nodding earnestly in place of shuffling feet for about 80 minutes, were primed for the euphoric disco of True Faith and the bliss bomb of Temptation.
No one sat down for the encore where, sure, Blue Monday and Love Will Tear Us Apart, were expected. Certainty, or familiarity, may have eased back the physical abandon on and off stage by this point but didn’t diminish the rush of shared memories which powered us instead.
If finishing with a newer song (the perfectly good Superheated) rather than the twin nostalgia bursts, to remind us that New Order haven’t stayed in the late 1980s, is a mistake, it is an understandable business decision. And we can let them have that little bit of practicality can’t we?
8. Tutti Frutti
13. The Perfect Kiss
14. True Faith
17. Blue Monday