Graded on a Curve:
Peter Hook & The Light, Unknown Pleasures, Closer, Movement, and Power, Corruption & Lies

As the bassist for Joy Division and New Order, Peter Hook’s fame is secure. Having quit the latter band in 2007, he’s since been busy with numerous activities including The Light, which features his son Jack Bates and former members of his prior project Monaco. Since 2011, The Light has toured in-sequence live renderings of classic Joy Div and New Order albums, specifically Unknown Pleasures, Closer, Movement, and Power, Corruption & Lies. It’s a high-stakes gamble that’s paid off rather handsomely, and performances of all four are getting strictly limited vinyl editions for Record Store Day through Let Them Eat Vinyl, with CDs and digital to follow on May 5 via Westworld Recordings.

The market for live in-sequence readings of full albums sprang forth only relatively recently, but from the start the endeavors have drawn condescension and outright dismissal from some quarters. Much of the built-in friction stems from the nature of the subject matter. It’s not enough for an album to simply be considered great; it must be a deathless classic having inspired passionate and even severe devotion. For just this reason, the in-sequence treatment, which sometimes arrives hand-in-hand with reunions, triggers the disdain of many. Hook’s quitting New Order surely complicates the issue for some fans.

If ever two bands met the requirements for the in-sequence treatment, it’s Joy Division and New Order, the former having spawned the latter after the suicide of vocalist Ian Curtis. While certainly loved during their existence, nearly all of Joy Div’s following flowered posthumously; in the grand scheme of things, hardly any of their fans saw them perform live.

By contrast, New Order reaped the rewards of a fervent listenership many times over, but their accent was also gradual, and the two albums tackled here by The Light occurred on the upswing. Often acts, particularly those of a punkish disposition, disdain playing older, formative material; a prime example would be Wire in the early ’80s, who went as far as to hire the Ex-Lion Tamers, essentially a cover band (featuring music scribe Jim DeRogatis) to open their ’87 tour with (get this) an in-sequence performance of debut LP Pink Flag.

New Order never seemed conflicted over their early, beloved tunes; seeing them at Merriweather Post Pavilion around 1990, they encored with “Ceremony.” Of course, New Order was more openly pop oriented and operated on a bigger playing field than Wire or The Fall, so regardless of how one feels about Hook touring these canonical Joy Division and New Order albums, the concept is not unfathomable, and the flat fact is he went out with his band and did it. The results deserve an inquiry as free from personal baggage as possible.

However, I’ll freely admit my esteem for the in-sequence live performance of albums was once not very high; it was witnessing Mission of Burma’s sterling delivery of their masterpiece Vs. that changed my mind, though I continue to approach subsequent examples with caution. But mentioning Burma’s show serves a dual purpose here, as they and Hook and The Light employ roughly the same method.

Specifically, they surround the in-sequence portion of the program with appropriate non-album selections, a tactic that helps to vault the 2CD Unknown Pleasures: Live in Leeds beyond expectations. Doing so is also a practical maneuver, as it allows the band to hit their stride and iron out any kinks prior to commencing with “Disorder.”

Conversely, “No Love Lost” harbors no attempt to disguise the differences between Joy Division’s exuberantly youthful explosiveness in the source recording and The Light’s comparatively well-oiled machine; as Unknown Pleasures’ selections unwind it’s with clear emotional engagement, the undertaking hitting an energetic plateau with the fan-favorite “She’s Lost Control.”

Hook doesn’t get truly loose until late, injecting “Interzone” with vocal trills and whipping off a little Iggy Pop-referencing stage-patter in the middle of the tune, but once achieved the groove carries over to the substantial post-album portion of the setlist. Opening with a run of tracks from Closer and then “Something Must Break” from Still, it’s the unexpected inclusion of “The Drawback” (from Joy Division’s first session under the name Warsaw) that really drives home the non-mercenary thrust.

From there, “Warsaw” (from the “An Ideal for Living” EP and much later the opener to the Substance compilation) and “Transmission” hit a peak, and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Ceremony” provide the unsurprising but wholly appropriate finishing touches. Interestingly, this wasn’t Hook and The Light’s initial in-sequence foray; the 2CD Closer: Live in Manchester was cut in 2011, the year before Unknown Pleasures: Live in Leeds.

Closer stands as the disc many Joy Div devotees clutch to their chests most tightly, so covering it first makes sense but was plainly no easy task, especially in front of a hometown crowd. The opening selections blend the ringer of “Dead Souls” (which also makes Unknown Pleasures’ preamble) and the thematically appropriate “Incubation” with the fairly surprising choices of “Auto-suggestion” and “From Safety to Where…?,” both from the Fast Product compilation “Earcom 2.”

“Atrocity Exhibition” finds them transcending mere musical marks, and if nervousness isn’t palpable, Hook does joke about looking at the crowd and then promptly forgetting the words. It’s a recurring bit of banter throughout a largely serious-minded set, but Hook’s handling of Curtis’ vocals without straining for mimicry is impressive.

He does hand off the mic to Rowetta, a name some will recognize from her membership in Happy Mondays, for “Colony,” and in the set’s post-Closer section, “Atmosphere.” This will undoubtedly trigger opprobrium in some quarters, but it’s frankly a refreshing way to avoid studious replication, and to these ears she acquits herself quite well, even on the difficult, some would say impossible task of “Atmosphere.” Other highlights include vigorous takes of “Ice Age” and “Novelty.”

Although it fits onto a single CD, Movement: Live in Dublin is still loaded with content, in fact dishing out seven Joy Division numbers (“The Drawback” making another welcome appearance) plus a pair of New Order singles contemporaneous with the featured album, all in the leadup to the LP proper (“Cries and Whispers” is the solitary cut following Movement’s closer “Denial”).

Recorded in 2013, The Light’s playing has sharpened without faltering into the smoothness of overconfidence; of the three versions of “Ceremony” offered across these albums, this version is the strongest, and it segues into a smoking “Procession.” For folks who find equal value in Joy Div’s post-punk and New Order’s techno pop, Movement has always been a special record, and maybe what’s most impressive about Live in Dublin is how Hook and crew manage to hit those two sweet spots while indulging in other angles.

Cut on the same evening as the Movement set, the single CD Power, Corruption & Lies: Live in Dublin opens with a solid reading of “Everything’s Gone Green” and then jumps right into the record that carried New Order out of the shadow of Joy Division. Obviously, the sound of Bernard Sumner’s voice is missed, but Hook gets the job done. And even more so than on the previous installment, The Light conjure the spirit of the source while inserting variations, sometimes subtle, and in the case of the serrated, rubbery synth at the start of “586,” somewhat bold.

The album’s postscript section lines up later smashes “True Faith,” a superb “Temptation,” and a solid “Blue Monday”; taken with Movement, these albums form a roughly chronological trajectory, but then the night gets wrapped with “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” this version inspiring a rousing and likely soused audience chorus chant-along.

Ownership of everything covered here is primarily advisable for obsessives, but the lot is strong enough that picking up more than one isn’t out of the question for casual fans. They reinforce the solidity of Peter Hook’s intentions with The Light and provide a wealth of worthwhile listening.

Unknown Pleasures: Live in Leeds
B+

Closer: Live in Manchester
B+

Movement: Live in Dublin
A-

Power, Corruption & Lies: Live in Dublin
B+

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  • TheDreamerCometh

    New Order is currently a Vegas show band. New Order without Peter Hook is the Rolling Stones without Keith Richards.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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