Before tonight, the only time I’d seen New Order live was when they played at this very same venue, London’s Albert Hall, just under thirty years ago. That night I told my Dad I was revising at a friend’s house, but instead headed to a concert in South Kensington. Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I lied about where I went that night, if it’s any consolation, I had a great time.
Now my parental apologies are finally made, let’s get the other elephant in the room out of the way. Tonight (23 April) at a show for the Teenage Cancer Trust they’re a five piece, sans erstwhile bassist Peter Hook. Yet while the line-up has changed the music is still magical - they sound if anything even better without their ace of bass. Last year’s Music Complete re-embraced their love of electronica and such is their love for that record they open and close the evening with two songs from it.
As the new New Order, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Tom Chapman and Phil Cunningham open with “Singularity” there are amiliar elements at play, the aesthetic remains a fusion of cinematic electronica with a world weary vocal, but the new songs are brilliant additions to their cannon. “Plastic”, played to a film backdrop that’s pure Kraftwerk circa Autobahn in its graphics, could have been on either of their two finest records, Low Life or Technique, which surprisingly they don’t play a single track from tonight.
As their rhythm envelops the hall, the playing of their human drum machine Morris - shaped by Joy Division producer Martin Hannett’s insistence that the band record endless takes in the studio - is wondrous. And to the left is the central cog that is Gillian Gilbert. If Morris is their virtuoso player then she’s the conductor, unshowy in her stage art but coaxing all sorts of wonderful sounds from her keyboard. Sumner is quite the frontman too.
“People on the High Line” is the funkiest they’ve ever sounded. With Chapman’s delicious bass overlaid with Gilbert’s piano stabs, it’s Sly and the Family Stone relocated to Ibiza, produced by Giorgio Moroder. When it ends, Sumner returns to the words of the refrain and tells us ‘That’s all you can do in life, keep trying, whatever shit it throws at you.’
As wonderful as the new songs are, the classics set the hall alight. “Your Silent Face” from Power, Corruption and Lies with its ebbing intro before those elegiac strings enter the arrangement is delightful electronica, coupled with the line “So why don’t you piss off?” Today’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and he won’t be turning in his grave at some of the couplets, but there’s a down to earth, conversational pop sensibility to the words and how Sumner sings them.
“Bizarre Love Triangle” shows their ability to make an incredibly layered and complicated arrangement sound simple. Acknowledging the euphoria of the crowd, the Albert Hall feels like more of a rave than the home of The Proms, Sumner quips ‘Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from.’ And there is. “True Faith” gets the entire hall on their feet, inspiring giddy, uncontrolled dancing and abandon and the following “Temptation” feels like a masterclass in pop music.
The encore starts with “Blue Monday” and whilst they must have played it a thousand times it still sounds remarkably fresh. It flows into “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, poignant images of Ian Curtis and the words “Forever Joy Division” are projected onto the backdrop, but such is the fury of Morris’s drumming and the energy of the other players this isn’t a sentimental re-tread, they sound reborn. They close with “Superheated” from Music Complete as if to say that as much as they’re in possession of a peerless back catalogue, what keeps them going is their endless desire to keep innovating and moving.
They’ve scaled the peak of pop’s firmament but It’s not for the money – they famously lost a penny for every copy they sold of the 12 inch version of “Blue Monday” as the packaging was so expensive – they do it because they have to. The line-up may have changed, but the effortless grandeur of New Order’s music hasn’t. Tonight they did something tremendous, after a dreadful week for music that saw one of its greatest innovators leave the stage forever, they gave us a beautiful reminder why music is the greatest art form.
As I walk to the tube I have the same stupid grin on my face and skip to the station, just as I did the last time I made the trip home from seeing New Order all those years ago. The only thing that was different this time was I told my Dad I was going. What a night for pop music.
5 8 6
Your Silent Face
People on the High Line
Bizarre Love Triangle
Waiting for the Sirens' Call
The Perfect Kiss
Love Will Tear Us Apart