I've been a fan of New Order since the mid 1980s yet it took me until I was almost 40 to see them in concert. It was worth the wait. New Order's show at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia on Friday, July 26th didn't disappoint.
The band was solid and they played a great selection of hits from across their 33 year career. The biggest "surprise" of the night was an encore composed entirely of Joy Division songs. It was wonderful.
Two things struck me about the show.
First, the final song of the night was Love Will Tear Us Apart. Of all the Joy Division songs New Order played during the show, this was the best. How good? I think they should release it as a New Order single. Bernard's voice fit perfectly into the song and the minor improvements made by the band gave the song a tight and modern feel. I realize that New Order gets touchy about being seen as "selling out" their Joy Division roots but I think they could release this single in a way that didn't compromise their values. Maybe they could donate all proceeds to epilepsy research in the name of Ian Curtis or give money to Ian's family. Again, the New Order version of this song was flawless and really deserving of a new release. It was that good.
Second, and it's a BIG second, was the absence of Peter Hook. Anybody that has ever heard my bass playing knows that Hook is a major influence on me. I taught myself to play bass by playing along to New Order albums. The falling out between Hook and the rest of the band has been hard for me to watch but I don't really come down on one side or the other. The fact that any band can keep it together for as long as they have is a miracle and conflicts of personalty are expected. I like New Order, I like Peter Hook. I am sad that he's no longer in the band but I don't harbor any ill will or anger towards the rest of the band or Hook regarding his separation from the group.
So, did Hook's absence effect the show? Sometimes. Tom Chapman, Hook's replacement, is a great bass player. He was tight...and that's the issue. Hooky is great, but he's a bit sloppy. That sloppiness is part of his sound. I'm not saying Hook is a bad bass player (he is my all-time favorite bass player), I'm saying that he plays loose and that looseness is part of his unique style. There were songs were Chapman stood out by being too tight. I felt that The Perfect Kiss and Age of Consent were examples where the notes were correct but the expression of the bass playing was noticeably not Hook. These are bass driven songs, that I play along with regularly, and so it makes sense that these might sound a bit off to me. It also might be that only a handful of people noticed any difference and nobody else cared.
The best song of the night, and my vote for best New Order song ever, was Temptation. If you know anything about this song you know that New Order worked this song out over time. Recordings from the early 80s show how it took them a while to get the lyrics and structure down. The 1998 version of Temptation and the current tour version of the song show that it is still evolving. Because of this, Temptation is a song written by the entire band and it feels that way. This was the last song New Order played in their regular set and it was the best. Everything gelled, the energy from the band and the crowd was high, and the song was flawless. This was a case where Chapman's bass playing fit perfectly with the band.
I had a great time at the show and I would definitely go to see them again if I get the chance. I'm also looking forward to their new material (even though I really don't like The Lost Sirens but I guess that's another post). Peter Hook is playing Philadelphia with his band The Light in September and I may go see him to round out my New Order experience for the year. When I discovered Brotherhood in 1986, and started my life-long obsession with the band, I would never have believed that 2013 would be my year of New Order. It's been a great year.