I saw New Order at Alexandra Palace on Friday night.
I saw New Order at Alexandra Palace on Friday night and, thrillingly, unexpectedly, they played one of my all time favourite New Order songs. More of which, later.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this gig. Despite the band not really being mentioned within this blog, I have, at times in my life, been absolutely obsessed with them. However, until relatively recently, they’ve not really been a constant. Indeed there have been times when they’ve almost been an afterthought when faced with the sheer majesty of Joy Division. I’m not going to explain that link, if you’re reading, you already know.
My latest New Order phase began with the release of 2015’s Music Complete. It’s obvious to me now that whilst it contains some “absolute bangers” – ©Ads, more of whom later, the album as whole is a little baggy. Nonetheless, it reignited a love affair which had begun just over two Decades previously with the ’94 release of the mysterious, melancholic, True Faith. What was the deal with everyone slapping each other silly? Anyone?
Three years later, having missed out at Brixton and then at Albert Hall, I still hadn’t found my way out of this phase – can a phase last three years? I don’t know – and what felt like one, final, chance to see the band before the Music Complete era was packed up into a box and put in the attic presented itself.
Despite it being Ally Pally, Jo was in – never one to pass up the chance to me cry, this one. And, so after a little, “Imagine me telling you how great Bizarre Love Triangle live was”, arm twisting, was Ads.
I’d made the mistake of listening to Peter Hook & The Light’s powerful performance of Power, Corruption & Lies (I’m not explaining this either – you know) on Spotify a couple of weeks back. How could New Order sound like New Order in the absence of the man who, for most people, defined their sound? It seemed impossible. I’d also seen the Chemical Brothers at Ally Pally last month, it seemed equally impossible that New Order could top that. No pressure then.
On arrival in the Great Hall on Friday night, we found ourselves a nice little spot just stage left and close enough to the stage without feeling too close. The DJ dropped Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Ads decided to take one last loo break. Neatly, the Chemical Brothers Ally Pally opener, Go followed, but was then cut, the strains of Das Rheingold – Vorspiel by Richard Wagner filling the hall along with anticipation. Now this was my first New Order gig, but I’ve got their Brixton live album, NOMC15 so I knew they were imminent. The film on the screens would have clued anyone else who hadn’t already figured it out.
Then my phone rang. It was Ads, obviously lost. Shit. Luckily, no sooner had I answered, then we spotted each other. He was back with us in time to ask what I thought the first track would be, “Singularity!” I confidently answered. Singularity it was. A fitting opening, prowling bassline turns dance floor monster, opening track.
I take no credit for that guess, by the way. Like I said, I’ve got the live album.
What I definitely didn’t expect was Regret and, by the sound of the crowd reaction, nobody else expected it either, it seemed like the whole place was straight up into the “I would like a place I could call my own/ have a conversation on the telephone!” refrain. A confident opening, reinforced the crack of drums which opens Love Vigilantes, the irony of thousands of people bellowing the lines “I was a brave man but I was dead” in sheer abandonment and joy was lost on me till a little later on- like, yesterday.*
The word Ultraviolence moved across the screen behind the band and instantly changed the atmosphere. A sweat song which sort of reminds me of Violator era Depeche Mode with its electronic pulse; it teed up the first of a few “What the fuck?” moments as the bassline of Disorder then slammed into the crowd, “What’s happening Paul?” Ads implored me in happy disbelief.
One thing which had worried me about this gig was my long held belief, based on several viewings of New Order live on TV, was that Barney couldn’t really sing live. This sounds ridiculous, bearing in mind how long New Order have been around. It was ridiculous and Disorder proved it, Barney Sumner is a fine live vocalist. Sorry for doubting.
As we recovered from that one, I cried out, “Cryyyyystal!”, were the band listening? Maybe! The opening keyboard line, is, to me, one of the more recognisable, iconic, moments in a catalogue full of them and then it gives way to those drums, that guitar and, yes, a great bassline. In the absence of female backing singers, Ads and I were happy to fill in the “Oooohhh! Yeahhhh!” vocals for the band. I’m sure they were grateful.
Some opening salvo from our heroes, then, time for a little breather, but one which included possibly the loveliest song ever, all keyboard washes and gentle vocals, to tell someone to “Piss off” – Your Silent Face.
“Sub-culture!” exclaimed the friendly fella stood next to me in a Joy Division. I’m still not sure if he was telling me (I knew), or just happy to hear it, but things were revving up again and then… then the moment Ads had been waiting for, Bizarre Love Triangle. I have to say it passed by in a bit of a blur because, even as a question for Ads formed in my mind, the moment I had been waiting for, without realising it, came. The band segued out of Bizarre Love Triangle and straight into Vanishing Point.
Now, I have loved Vanishing Point ever since discovering it on 1994’s (the best of) New Order, but I hadn’t even considered that it might get an airing here. I had a little moment, I sang along, “Life is short, but love is strong”. Is that almost the perfect New Order lyric? Possibly. It’s certainly the perfect distillation of the melancholic euphoria that pervades this song.
“Price of Love?!” Ads implored the band, but they weren’t listening to him.
The soothing techno burble of Waiting For The Siren’s Call next preceded Music Complete’s “absolute banger” par excellence, Plastic – dropped to a confusingly muted crowd reaction. New Order, now, were going for the throat; The Perfect Kiss kicking off a dance for home which saw the perfect True Faith come closest so far to taking the roof off, then Blue Monday and finally, Temptation, “Ooooh you’ve got green eyes, oooh you’ve got grey eyes”, ooooh, this is turning into the best night of my life.
On that note of pure pop perfection, the band took their leave and I turned to Ads to ask him the question I had thought of earlier,
“Would you have forgiven me if they hadn’t played Bizarre Love Triangle?”
The grin on his face told me all I need to know.
The band returned, pretty quickly to be fair and as Barney took to the front of stage, he spoke to us for what felt like the first time, “Any Joy Division fans in?”
“Price of Love?”
A wonderful Atmosphere followed, with Anton Corbijn’s video paying tribute to Ian Curtis filling the giant screen and then the song which has been stuck in my head in the days following the gig, Decades. New Order rediscovered this song in the process of building a setlist for their recent wall of synthesisers project and it felt more than welcome here. Its lyrics taking on ever more poignancy bearing in mind Hooky’s estrangement from the band.
“Here are the young men, well where have they been?”
Me, Ads and Jo all have our own different relationships with the music of Joy Division and New Order, but we all agreed that that was a moment. How could you not?
Forever Joy Division, indeed.
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Love Will Tear Us Apart. Again! Waited for this night nearly 25 years and then I fucked the photo. @neworderofficial absolutely smashed it though, will remember this night forever. They played Vanishing Point! #AllyPally #allypallyneworder #neworder #joydivision #livemusic
There was only way, of course, to follow Decades and the hall erupted to the song which will continue to echo through the years, Love Will Tear Us Apart. Just typing this gives me a little moment. It’s funny that this song, about the death of a relationship, has turned into a celebration – for both New Order, Hooky and the fans – of the life and work of the man who wrote it.
But I don’t want to get into that here.
All I want you to know really is that, finally, I saw New Order on Friday night and it was the night of my life.
*Jo told me after I wrote this that, actually, it was just me singing along to this, but I’m not sure I believe her, so I’m leaving it in.