New Order was one of the most forward-thinking bands of the ’80s, blending post-punk and still-nascent electronic music in a way that hadn’t been done before and has been co-opted by innumerable bands in the indie-dance realm. It’s strange, then, to see a group so innovative embroiled in a rock-band tiff as old-fashioned as they come: a lawsuit between bassist Peter Hook and the rest of the band for the rights to use the name New Order. In a Queensrÿche-esque bit of duality, both Hook, with his backing band The Light, and the rest of New Order have been touring separately, playing New Order’s music.
So when I told a friend who’s a die-hard New Order fan that to kick off Decibel Fest, Hook was playing New Order’s first two albums (Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies) in their entirety, he was skeptical. “I can see it being awesome or incredibly sad—and not in a Joy Division way,” he said.
Fortunately, it was closer to awesome than sad. New Order’s sound is reproducible, and Hook’s four-person backing band—a drummer, synth/sequencer player, guitarist, and another bassist, which gave Hook plenty of room to play his trademark upper-register bass melodies—was largely on point, instilling energy and purpose into old material. This was especially true for the Joy Division–indebted material from Movement (and of the actual Joy Division songs they played), most notably album opener “Dreams Never End.”
The most obvious criticism is that, because Hook is 57 and not Bernard Sumner, the vocals were lacking. He sang verses and sometimes entire songs like “The Village” in a lower register, and his voice is gruffer and less polished than that of Sumners. This was a good fit for the murkier Movement, where Hook sings lead on two songs anyway, but the more-complicated melodies from Power, Corruption & Lies didn’t always come through.
“We’ve got a lot in common, Manchester and Seattle—we have all the fucking good bands,” Hook said in what was probably half honesty, half pandering before dedicating “Age of Consent” to Kurt Cobain. It’s tempting to worry about the authenticity of Hook touring solo behind New Order’s music (or Moby showing up during the encore to lend vocals to three songs, including untouchable classic “Ceremony”), but last night that didn’t really matter: he played solid versions of some of the best source material there is.