The oldies circuit is seldom fun for the people on it. You hit the casinos or dinner theaters, and run through your hits for an audience that wants you essentially frozen in time (if only it were that easy). The DJ circuit, however, is a lot kinder—few people are going to get mad if your set is largely comprised of new material, mainly because people are there to either dance or gawk. You’re there to entertain, sure. But you’re not there to be an entertainer, if that’s not too fine a distinction.
Peter Hook probably isn’t going to be playing the Emerald Queen Casino lounge anytime soon. His band, New Order, are icons who’ve seldom slipped from fashion over a nearly three-decade career; they’ll be playing stadiums for a while yet. Still, Hook’s been DJ’ing a fair amount recently, stopping at Neumo’s on Monday, Jan. 16. Oddly, a couple of bands, Infomatik and the Lights, opened for him, which says plenty about the good-uncle role New Order have played for both rock and dance music—because aside from the songs by his own bands (including New Order’s predecessor, Joy Division), for the bulk of his set, dance music is what Hook stuck to.
He played entirely from CDs in a carrying case, and without headphones, which led to a few train wrecks during mixing. He’s always been the N.O. member with the most overtly rock-starry maneuvers—after the fact, a friend of mine asked if his turntables had been slung as low as his just-above-the-knees bass. Not quite, but Hook, wearing a white Izod shirt with the words MUHAMMAD ALI on its back, spent a good amount of his DJ time crouched down, arms extended back then brought around to point whenever the good parts kicked in. Most of the time, the good parts consisted of what everyone remembers from New Order and Joy Division. He didn’t play “Blue Monday,” the 1983 single that remains N.O.’s best-known anthem, but its famous stuttering drum-machine intro was mixed into at least a half-dozen other tracks. Hook opened with (not very good) mash-ups of the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” and J.D.’s answer song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” and Grace Jones’ cover of J.D.’s “She’s Lost Control” intermingled with bits of the original. And “Tear Us Apart” reappeared at the end, alongside “Crystal” and “Transmission.” Diehards got to dance and gawk. It was enjoyable, but somewhere in the distance, you could hear the ringing of slot machines.