I Feel So Extraordinary: The Odd Charm Of New Order Live
, May 4th, 2012 12:28
They're now without Peter Hook, but New Order triumph at Brixton thanks to their unusual, at times shambolic, charm
"I've just got a polite tourettes syndrome," announces Bernard Sumner from the Brixton Academy stage. "I apologise all the time". The response from the crowd? "Fuckin' 'ave it Barnie!" comes a full-throated shout from just behind us. Sumner is still apologising and asking if it's shit or not, as drill sergeant Stephen Morris musters the beats of 'Blue Monday'. To be fair, he does forget the words... but it doesn't really matter.
First, the elephant in the room: the absence of Peter Hook, and those who say that without him it's "not New Order". Was it "not New Order" without Gillian, tonight behind a Roland keyboard, right at the front of the stage? It's a sexism that perhaps stems from some of New Order's more boorish fans, to be found slurping and gurning and stumbling around Brixton. But that's not all of the story; New Order are not, and never were, for the lads alone.
New Order have lasers, 90s screensaver visual, bits of paper attached to the toilet door telling customers to keep hydrated with water, available at the bar at the other end of the room. They have fans with tits spilling out of dresses and shirts (that goes for menswear and ladieswear departments alike), who wave inflatable hammers and gurn after a Thursday night dab. There's a thickset bloke who'll put his arm around you and explain, distraught and at length, about how long he had to queue for a pint only to have it knocked out of his hands. New Order are not an indie band.
Then again, they do have 'Crystal', the sing-a-long tub-thumper that was their last big hit that follows opener 'Elegia'. In any other hands, this could be Kasabian... As New Order play it, the video to the track plays on the screen behind them, showing a young band acting New Order, all sideways hair and Topshop wardrobe. Yet it's the middle-aged trio (Bernard in a greyscale American flag t-shirt and denim jacket, Gillian in her sparkly top and leather boots proving that Macclesfield disco chic still suits her well and Morris in a white t-shirt with that funny big shoulder hunch), are New Order's honesty incarnate.
"Are you having a good time?" asks Sumner, that tourettes striking again. "Hopefully we'll prolong that experience". This leads into 'Ceremony', which booms and rumbles around, the most joyous funeral hymn ever written, and certainly the only one you can sing happily along to: "do do do to tut to foo dip".
New Order's history is as full of strife and trouble and incident and death and illness and fallings-out as any other. Perhaps it's this that has given their music this presence. Then they never seem to have taken themselves too seriously, despite their knack of making music that actually does a far better job at hitting the Everyman Universal than, say, Coldplay. They might have had the biggest selling 12" of all time, but in a way it's a shame that the 80s didn't have a Tescos CD rack to really push this out into every car and every home, the stereo in hairdressers, building site or corner shop.
'Here To Stay' recorded with The Chemical Brothers, tonight is football terrace techno. Much is made of the legend that meatheads stopped lumping each other thanks to ecstasy rush soundtracked by and enhancing the music of New Order (along with the music they lost a lot of money bringing to the UK, via the Hacienda). Whatever the truth in that, New Order's music is imbued with a sense of togetherness, post punk that took the 'anyone could do it' idea and made it into a dilated pupil hug and nonsensical conversation in the air at 5am. Or, as Sumner offers before an exultant 'Bizarre Love Triangle', advice for the ladies in the room to check out his mic tech and sound man.
Morris' drumming on 'Age Of Consent' and '586' is Krafkwerk's Man Machine made Northern Cyborg, the finest example of precision engineering you'll see outside of the Large Hadron Collider. It really is the low-end that holds New Order together. For all Barney's apologising and apparent nervousness - as if still surprised that he's actually getting to do this - with Morris playing drums and triggering those infamous beats, you can't go far wrong. The bass here is thick and gutteral - without dwelling too much on the absence of Hook, it seems to have brought them a new, taut ferocity. New Order are one of those rare bands that you can both dance and jump to. Is it too much to speculate that the return of Gillian to the band is the reason that most of the younger people here, and the ones seen to be doing the former, are female?
'True Faith' gets a work out (rave piano-tastic) as elastic as the outfits on that most wonderful and preposterous video by Philippe Decouflé screened behind them. 'Perfect Kiss', with its inducement to "let's go out and have some fun" pictures neon hedonism as heroic act. The tease into 'Temptation', arguably New Order's finest yet most under-regarded pop moment, is sublime.
And then of course they come back and encore with two Joy Division tracks. 'Transmission', a song that evokes marshal voices insidiously out of state supplied radios in concrete blocks that reek of cabbage, inspires bra girls on shoulders, thousands of happy faces, communal singalong. It's about the most focussed track tonight and still feels like catharsis for the three people onstage, 30-odd years on. This incongruity is heightened when he introduces 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' saying "we want you all to sing along, we know it's corny... but it's fun." It's the sort of comment that attracts mutterings of sacrilege from callow purists, yet in so many ways it's entirely right that New Order have smashed the slab of the tomb of Closer, and made these simple pleasures known.
New Order's imperfections, awkwardness and even, at times, unselfconscious embracing of the slightly naff, make up their brilliance. They explain why they feel like such a uniquely British band. Of their contemporaries, Pet Shop Boys might have the art, Erasure the slick pop high camp, Depeche Mode the dark European hauteur and U2 the castles and the bellends, but New Order, with their dysfunctional, almost wobbly-set-soap-opera ways, have the charm.