New Order: a couple of old shows, in lieu of a postponed “Unity”

On this beautiful Monday afternoon, one of the warmest of the summer thus far, I’m opting for another flashback performance … or in this case, a couple of them, paired up to offer a more well-rounded experience. Same act. Multiple shows.

The band is New Order, and before things went tits-up in the Corona wars, they were scheduled to perform the Hollywood Bowl this fall, sharing the bill with fellow Brits and ’80s originals Pet Shop Boys. Presciently dubbed the “Unity” tour, that double-bill has shifted by a year. Time will tell if it actually comes to fruition. At least, it wasn’t cancelled. So there’s hope.

Honestly, I was saving this post as precursor to that original upcoming performance. But since time now stands still, as we endlessly repeat our own personal Groundhog Day loops of various stay-at-home-ness, I figured now is as good a time as any to cover the historical hallowed ground which is New Order.

I have a long intertwined personal history with the music of New Order. They’re one of those bands that I’ve seen more times than I can count, dating all the way back to their ’85 “Low Life” tour, which, incidentally, was one of the earliest concerts I ever attended. It was at the Henry J. Kaiser auditorium in Oakland, which was essentially a large basketball arena used for mid-sized general admission shows. I saw a bunch of concerts there … Siouxsie and the Banshees, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, General Public, The Cure … all the alternative icons of the era. New Order was at the top of that seasoned list of must-see’s.

I don’t recall any specifics from that performance. But I still have abstract impressions … veils of layered grayscale light, silhouetted band members, spatial synth frequencies, cavernous keyboard washes, early house beats, and an aura of mystique, thanks to the wide-eyed wonder of one’s own burgeoning interest in live music.

Throughout college, while moonlighting as an L.A. music journalist, I interviewed various band members, unravelling the influential enigma of New Order, discussing their past lives with the seminal Joy Division, as well as touching on a few of their side-projects – Electronic, frontman/guitarist Bernard Summer’s collaboration with The Smith’s Johnny Marr and Pet Shop Boy’s Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe, and Revenge, bassist Peter Hook’s industrial house and rock outfit. As a sidenote, I was really looking forward to a potential mini-Electronic reunion on the “Unity” tour, perhaps performing “Get the Message,” or their big hit, “Getting Away With It.” Not sure if Marr would make it. But Sumner and Tennant would both be present.

I was too young to witness Joy Division perform live, before frontman Ian Curtis took his own life on the eve. of their U.S. tour. That was May of ’80. But I often listened to their two stark albums of sullen captivity, the ’79 debut “Unknown Pleasures,” which many probably recognize by its iconic artwork, and the ’80 follow-up “Closer.”

In the years that followed, remaining members Sumner, Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris opted to continue in the newly formed New Order, adding keyboardist Gillian Gilbert along the way. They released two transitional albums, “Movement” in ’81 and “Power, Corruption & Lies” in ’83, before successfully shedding their Joy Division legacies, with the ’85 release of the groundbreaking synth-rock classic “Low Life.”

Living in the states, I’d only heard myths and legends surrounding New Order’s early years, how their innovative house rhythms collided with futured punk-minded alternative instrumentation to lead as flagship band for Manchester’s legendary independent label Factory Records, and the sister nightclub The Hacienda.

It was a different era, and all the “news” came from imported British music press publications, like NME (New Music Express) and Melody Maker. They had a tendency to sensationalize. So it took my foray into the aforementioned journalism trade to clarify some of the mystique for myself. Unfortunately, none of those cassette tape hand-transcribed interviews exist today, otherwise I’d include them.

Anyway, the short of it is that New Order were just trying to make a living doing what they loved. And that meant fusing dance with rock, leaning heavily into the synths, marked by Hook’s defining upfront bass melodies and Morris’s interchangeable acoustic and electronic drum rhythms.

Today, that might not seem all that revolutionary or pioneering. In hindsight, though, this proved the evolutionary blueprint for a uniquely definitive blend of dance and rock, the early years characterized by a darker, moodier sensibility, later maturing into cultured pop and dance driven signatures, with alternative degrees of chiming guitars and foreground bass interspersed throughout.

What follows is a varied collection of live performances from New Order, curated from two shows, the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16 and the Hollywood Bowl on 09.18.17. I’ve added some sort of chronological order, versus actual setlist order. It seemed more interesting that way, plus adds a bit of growth/maturation context.

Let’s start with New Order’s earliest years, the ’80-’85 era.

First up is an epic serving of the ’82 standalone single “Temptation,” which closed out the main set of both New Order performances This one’s taken from the Shrine show, of which my seats were infinitely closer than that of the Bowl.

New Order perform “Temptation” at the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

Next up is a short excerpt from the ’83 synth-symphonic wash of ecstasy “Your Silent Face,” also recorded at the Shrine. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t record the whole thing. It was a long time ago, and my priorities were probably a bit different.

New Order perform “Your Silent Face” at the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

The subsequent two selections come from the ’85 release “Low Life,” which for reasons stated above, will remain my own official entry point to the music of New Order.

“The Perfect Kiss” is a percussive electro powerhouse that, to me, remains a definitive entry in their expansive 40 year catalogue. Even after all these years, the sequenced beats still sound surprisingly askew in their captivation, while the synths wash in cool cavernous sheets.

New Order perform “The Perfect Kiss” at the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

“Subculture” is one of those classic dance-oriented tracks that rarely makes the setlist – at least, in the last decade. Apparently, I had trouble holding my phone steady to film this infrequent inclusion, so forgive the nausea-inducing bounce and sway. But its taut synthesized rhythms still sound immediate, and Sumner’s monochromatic voice echoes the past clearly, so it’s inclusion here is a must.

New Order perform “Subculture” at the Hollywood Bowl on 09.18.17.

Moving into the ’86-’89 era, I most associate these tunes with my years living in Los Angeles.

“Bizarre Love Triangle,” from the ’86 release “Brotherhood,” and “True Faith,” released as a standalone single in ’87, were perhaps New Order at their most commercially successful, and for their time, radio-friendly. Not that those qualities were a factor in my enjoyment. But it was nice to see them accepted in broader circles.

These tracks represent New Order at their most colorfully buoyant, further securing a viably sure-footed foothold in their eclectic hybrid of house, synth, pop, and rock. Both of these clips come from their Shrine performance.

New Order perform “Bizarre Love Triangle” at the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

New Order perform “True Faith” at the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

Although I never really took to their fifth album “Technique,” it did feature one of my all-time favorite New Order efforts, “Vanishing Point,” which I never in a million years expected to hear/see performed live again.

The last time I experienced it on stage was during a wild week in ’89, when I went on a bit of a New Order bender, and caught them four times in seven days, twice at the Universal Amphitheatre and twice at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. Fortunately, I was comped for all four shows – the perks of being a journalist – so my only financial liability was in parking fees. Sadly, though, neither of those venues exist anymore, due to modern development and a lack of good taste.

Anyway, “Vanishing Point” is a wonderfully moving glassy-fused synth groove, bedded by a classic signature Hook baseline, and a rhythmic melody that feels past the point of no return.

Thankfully, they resurrected it with reverence and more at the Hollywood Bowl.

New Order perform “Vanishing Point” at the Hollywood Bowl on 09.18.17.

These last two New Order selections come at the turn of the millennium, starting a good dozen years after “Technique.” They also hail from the last two albums to feature Hook on bass, the ’01 rock-infused “Get Ready” and the much lauded ’05 album “Waiting for the Siren’s Call.”

Hook has since gone on to form Peter Hook and the Light, performing both Joy Division and New Order albums live in their entirety Tom Chapman has since replaced Hook, and continues to record and tour with them. Also, new to this era is Phil Cunningham on guitars and keyboard.

The blistery guitar-driven “Crystal” is the opener for “Get Ready.” And “Waiting for the Siren’s Call” is its own title track, here rendered as the truly brilliant “Planet Funk Remix” rendition, which in my mind, is all kinds of toe-tapping, hum-inducing awesome. I’m not sure why New Order didn’t record it this way in the first place, it’s that good. As such, it’s undoubtedly one of my absolute favorites. Strangely, it’s a bit tricky to find, since it never received a proper release.

“Crystal” is taken from the Hollywood Bowl show. I’ve got two versions of “Waiting for the Siren’s Call,” one from the Shrine, which has a superior view, but unfortunately is truncated, and one from the Bowl, which is distant, yet remedied by the inclusion of the whole performance.

New Order perform “Crystal” at the Hollywood Bowl on 09.18.17.

New Order perform “Waiting for the Siren’s Call” at the Hollywood Bowl on 09.18.17.

New Order perform “Waiting for the Siren’s Call” at the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

This last collection marks a celebration of Joy Division tunes, filtered through the New Order of today, yet fully respectful of these early roots.

As a sidebar, it’s fascinating to hear New Order’s interpretations versus what Peter Hook has been doing with his shows. Hook renders these tunes a bit more raw and raucous, keeping the edges rough and gruff, scraping the surface with intense ferocity. I’m totally on board with that.

New Order tackles Joy Division more selectively, focusing on those tunes that sync with their synth-rock fusion, aiming for a smoother, streamlined execution that feels more an early selection in their later catalogue. And technically, that’s kind of on-point, since Sumner and Morris hail from that Joy Division era.

Sumner’s vocals are softer than those from originator Curtis, who’s deeper bellow and holler seems more tormented than tempered. But his New Order approach works quite well for the dirge rumble of “Atmosphere” and the alternative goth anthem “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” both featured from the Shrine performance.

Also included are the deeper cuts, the synth-shivers of “Disorder” and the propulsive future-punk-minded “Decades,” which both arrived as a happy surprises during their Hollywood Bowl appearance.

New Order perform Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” at the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

New Order perform Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

New Order perform Joy Division’s “Disorder” at the Hollywood Bowl on 09.18.17.

New Order perform Joy Division’s “Decades” at the Hollywood Bowl on 09.18.17.

That brings this somewhat lengthy stroll down New Ordered memory lane to a close. After combing through a lot of these tracks, I’m actually kind of surprised I didn’t capture a few other seminal classics, like “Ceremony” or “Blue Monday” – or for that matter, any of the latest tracks from their last proper album, the ’15 release “Music Complete.” They certainly played them. I must’ve figured that I’d capture those tunes at some future date, like the originally schedule show with Pet Shop Boys this fall. Perhaps, I’ll get the chance, if the next year brings health and sanity back to our lives.

For now, this reminiscence will have to do. Enjoy these fine selection of mixed quality clips, as well as the below featured setlists from both New Order shows. Until the next one …

New Order’s setlist for the Shrine Auditorium on 03.19.16.

New Order’s setlist for the Hollywood Bowl on 09.18.17.

New Order:

Joy Division:

And from a totally different show, not featured in this post, New Order perform at the Greek Theatre on 07.13.14.