It’s Sunday night, July 6, 2014, and I’m front and center at the Paramount Theater waiting for New Order to hit the stage. The lights are dim as techs move back and forth across the stage, checking guitars and synthesizers and making sure everything’s in its right place. Meanwhile, the tour DJ plays a steady set of modern UK house, including Lxury and Jessie Ware, keeping the energy up while the last minute details are taken care of. It’s hard to believe that in all its intricacies, this sold out show in front of us was a back up plan. New Order was set to headline an evening of Sasquatch! Music Festival’s second weekend in 2014 alongside the likes of Soundgarden, Kraftwerk, and Neutral Milk Hotel, but the weekend was abruptly cancelled. In its wake, we saw dozens of bands scrambling to find a Seattle venue with availability this same weekend, some successful and others not. But to myself and almost three thousand other fans behind me, there was no question where New Order would find their home: the Paramount Theatre on the same exact night at the same exact time. Rock and roll royalty deserve first pickings, and New Order got just that.
To pass the time and stifle my excitement, I peer back through the crowd behind me. I see three distinct generations. Around me are the kids, myself being one of them. The boys, still slim in their tight fitting jeans and vintage lookalike t-shirts with tousled hair brushed to the side, are all trying to look like Stephen Morris circa 1983, each with an arm around their yawning date, simultaneously thrilled and unprepared for what’s to come. Next behind them are the 30s. They’ve been around the musical block and know these songs backwards and forwards, and chances are, they’ve been waiting quite a bit longer for tonight than their juniors a few feet in front. Behind them stand the mid-40s, some of them pushing 50 – they know exactly what’s going on and they love it. The steady beat of the house music harking back to the yesteryear of the Haçienda heyday, they bob along and wait for the rush of nostalgia to hit like a tidal wave.
Despite our differences, we are all here for the same reason. At some point, either long ago or five minutes before the show sold out, the songs of New Order changed our lives. The playful sensuality of Bernard Sumner’s lyrics and guitar style, the blistering bass technique of the one and only Peter Hook, the groundbreaking post-punk drum genius of Stephen Morris, or every little accent added with perfect grace by Gillian Gilbert on guitar, keyboard, synthesizer, or drum machine – something about this band brought all of us here tonight to bask in the sound of perfection and celebrate this once in a lifetime show together. And even if we didn’t have a single other thing in common, we understand more about each other than some of our otherwise closest friends.
Tonight is a celebration for all. This is New Order’s first Seattle date in over half a decade, and also first since the departure of founding member and irreplaceable bassist Peter Hook. The latter brings a bit of a somber note to tonight’s festivities, but the power of the former outweighs any sadness at hand. Tonight is a chance for the new generation of fans to celebrate and dance alongside the old ones, and with a set list for the ages, New Order made their 2014 Seattle outing one for the books.
It seems that good times are always better had with good friends. Guitarist Phil Cunningham joined New Order in 2001 to help bring the band’s 7th LP Get Ready to the stage, as Gillian Morris decided not to tour due to familial commitments. At this point, Cunningham is a veteran member, playing with the group for over ten years and also working with Bernard Sumner touring with Electronic and in the studio with Bad Lieutenant. In 2003, Cunningham helped a Los Angeles band called Run Run Run finish up their debut EP in Manchester. Tonight, the two were reunited (in a way) as Run Run Run provided a great supporting set to open the night’s festivities. The band played a great set of post-punk tinged alternative rock before handing the stage off to New Order. Before leaving, singer and guitarist Xander Smith gave a nod to KEXP, who had Run Run Run live in the studio back in 2006 around the time of the release of their first LP Endless Winter.
Run Run Run:
As the lights go down for New Order, spontaneous combustion erupts from the crowd. The music of Ennio Morricone booms over the loudspeaker as a quintet of silhouettes enters over an effervescent blue background. The lights go up and reveal the expected to rapturous applause. Bernard takes front and center with a slight bow, grabbing a guitar and adjusting his microphone. Phil takes stake stage right, guitar slung over his shoulder and manning a synth setup. Gillian enters stage left, making sure her guitar is at the ready for the all-hands-on-deck guitar barrage of “Ceremony” (more on that later) and adjusting her keyboard slightly. Against the blue horizon, Stephen Morris crawls up and over his massive drum setup and gets comfortable between an array of drum pads, a full kit, and a gong. Finally, bassist Tom Chapman makes his place cleanly between Gillian and Bernard, distinguishing himself immediately from Peter Hook with a Fender Jazz bass as opposed to Hook’s ubiquitous, daunting Gibson ES. The stage is set, now it’s time to make some noise.
The band opens with their staple opener of the last few years: Low-Life instrumental “Elegia”. The slow waltz is the emotional climax of New Order’s 1985 masterwork, creating a bleak moment of remembrance between the blistering post-punk screamer “Sunrise” and the new wave dance build of “Sooner Than You Think” before the b-side of the record empties it all into club banger “Sub-Culture”. As it’s gone down in history, the track is one of the band’s final tried and true tributes to Joy Division singer and conductor Ian Curtis. Here, with three albums of separation between New Order and their former incarnation, the memories hold on, but only in the wake of the present, and by 1985, New Order had garnered enough fame from hits of their own to almost completely distinguish the two in the minds of the casual listener. Today, with the fame and legacy of Joy Division and New Order ripening both together and separately with ageless appeal, it only seems fitting that “Elegia” be the opening statement the band chooses to make with every reintroduction. Hearing “Elegia” live in 2014 by a band enjoying the fruits of nearly forty years of labor in two incredible bands is to hear the band come full circle. It’s a chance to remember that there is no love lost, before pushing forward like love vigilantes into the sunset.
With a final boom of the drum, “Elegia” closes and empties straight into Sumner and Cunningham dueling guitars. It’s the opening of Get Ready lead single “Crystal”, and the room explodes with energy. Though the immortal New Order age may end for most with 1989’s Technique (before their only #1 hit was on the radio, mind you), “Crystal” is just another of many New Order tracks that seems to evade age at every turn. The sizzling guitar is complimented by Chapman ripping into that signature Peter Hook bassline that, very deservedly, was turned up by the sound man much higher than it is on the record. “Crystal” was just the explosion the evening needed to set things off right. The track is followed by another post-Technique wonder, “Regret”, the lead single from 1993’s Republic, the last record released before New Order’s first hiatus. “Regret” is ingenious on a variety of levels, but maybe most of all in that it inverts the band’s very first single, “Ceremony”. Bernard’s classic “Ceremony” riff is turned upside down to give “Regret” it’s central hook. Then, brutal melancholy is perfectly counterbalanced with a danceable backing beat that works its way into your head for days.
“Ceremony” made its way into the set soon thereafter, but not without the crowd first hearing a brand spanking new tune in the form of “Singularity” (formerly known as “Drop The Guitar”). New Order debuted the track this past March at Lollapalooza in Chile, but aside from amateur Youtube rips from the crowd, this is the first time anyone here has heard the track in its full glory. While we got a serving of new, unreleased New Order material last year with Waiting For The Sirens’ Call leftovers Lost Sirens, no new material has been recorded or taken to the stage since the Sirens sessions back in 2004. Thus, fresh tracks were a joy to hear tonight. “Singularity” was dynamite, featuring a guitar and bass groove heavily separated from the Sirens era material. A few die hards in the crowd already knew the lyrics, but otherwise, the track was met with excitable reception and hopes for a studio version. After the old dogs showed off new tricks, they gave the crowd a double shot of vintage classics: “Ceremony” and “Age of Consent”. Enough has been said about these tracks for two lifetimes, so I think I can leave you here knowing that both were as spectacular as could be expected.
Taking a slight deviation from the expected, the band next pulled out Power, Corruption, & Lies mid tempo slow dance “Your Silent Face”. The track was backed with a beautiful visual bringing ongoing awareness to amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. This continues New Order’s ongoing work with and in support of amfAR. Earlier just this year, New Order played the amfAR Inspiration Gala in New York, helping raise 13 million for the foundation. The song was a perfect pick for the issue at hand too, as the messages of a problem removed and silenced from the conveniences of daily life are directly applicable to the problem of AIDS plaguing undeveloped nations across the globe. Musically, taking “Your Silent Face” to the stage in 2014 was a wonderful idea through and through, as the expansive drums and sweeping synthesizer strings filled the Paramount from top to bottom with sound – truly a breathtaking moment in tonight’s set.
After Lost Sirens cut “Californian Grass” made an appearance, New Order decidedly turned their set towards the dance end of the spectrum, starting with all-time favorite “Bizarre Love Triangle”. Dropping the guitar, Bernard grabbed a cordless microphone and danced to and fro across the stage, while Chapman kept forward motion on that amazing bass line and Gillian finally got to rip into a really prime synth line. The crowd erupted with dancing and sung the back and forth calls with Bernard, all having as much of a ball as him. The dancing didn’t stop from there. Power, Corruption, & Lies acid house dynamo “5 8 6″ had been revamped for the new tour in sublime fashion. Skipping the experimental John Hughes-ish intro, the band went full force into the fold of pounding bass and dark, sensual energy with glee. Bernard was especially fun on this track, acting out the spiteful lyrics word for word. For “In the future when you want me in your heart, I won’t be there”, Bernard threw a V to the crowd and a shrug like it was common knowledge. The general “piss off” attitude of the whole track was represented in beautiful form tonight, to the complete delight of the crowd. At the end as praise erupted, Bernard gave a salute and a quick bow, just like the punk boy scout he introduced to us all those years ago in Warsaw. It’s a beautiful and charming thing to know that some things never change.
Next up was “Plastic”, another fresh track just out of the oven that New Order debuted only last week at their Chicago gig. The pounding bass of “5 8 6″ didn’t subside for long, as “Plastic” rivaled it in an excellent ode to the band’s acid house era, with lyrics similar to Lost Sirens cut “Sugarcane”, calling celebrities to cut out the snobbery, wanton excess, and general insincerity. If “Plastic” and “Singularity” are any sign of what’s to come for New Order, I’d say the band’s recently announced new project, set for release in 2015, isn’t seeming to do much retread of old territory. For a group of songwriters hitting nearing their fifth decade in the game, that’s pretty incredible.
From there New Order made the jump to hyper-speed. The band gave the sound man a run for his money on the back to back maximalism of “True Faith” and “The Perfect Kiss”, each six straight minutes of new wave fury. “True Faith” went off with a band, obviously – the song has been a live staple for the band for two and a half decades. And even though Tom Chapman didn’t try his hand at the brutal bass guitar intro of “The Perfect Kiss” he sure made up for it with the rest of the track. You forget just how much is going on towards the end of that number, what with Phil and Bernard both ripping the strings off their guitars, Chapman up in the nosebleed register of his bass playing scales like his life depended on it, and Gillian manning a full orchestra’s worth of keyboard strings. All the while, just like in the timeless video, Stephen faced the wall, manning a standing drum pad setup, flipping switches, and triggering samples and all the other wizard stuff. The whole thing was inches from sonic explosion, really. By the time it all ended, the crowd needed a moment just to scoop their jaws up off the floor before the next cut.
Not much room to recover, though – next up was the band’s seminal hit and the one that everyone and their brother had on 12″ at their university radio station just for the hell of it: “Blue Monday”. Bernard exited and let the band build the groove to a comfortable spot before returning with a cordless and playing karaoke with the crowd, all dancing together with endless frivolity. Not a one of those double claps went without the entirety of the Paramount’s assistance. Plus, with Tom Chapman’s bass turned up to 11 and that churning bass line cranked out like clockwork, he guaranteed himself a warm welcome back from long time fans in the future. For the closing synthesizer bit, Bernard joined Gillian on the keyboard, the two tag teaming the massive line on multiple octaves. There was a fun moment here. Someone must have screwed up a note somewhere, not that the crowd really noticed. But Gillian broke into a laugh, soon followed by Bernard, as the two playfully bickered at each other about the line while continuing through it. As Bernard finished and returned to center stage, he pushed Tom Chapman out of the way, who laughed and continued ripping into his bass without an ounce of precision lost. It’s fun to see the band in good spirits, considering their occasionally tumultuous history. But here, today in Seattle, New Order were at the top of their game, to no surprise of any true fan present. Rounding out their set before a break, the band pulled out “Temptation” and had the whole place jumping three feet off the ground, up, down, turning around, occasionally hitting the ground just to rise from it once more.
For one last offering after an already impossibly good set list, New Order returned to the stage for a trio of Joy Division cuts. Even here, the band’s conscious choice of beginning and end seemed to point to a full circle understanding of their place in music yesterday, today, and tomorrow. “Elegia” first – the tribute – then Joy Division last, as the past to be remembered. The cuts chosen were a good balance: post-punk wonder “Transmission”, haunting ballad “Atmosphere”, and their most adored work “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. “Atmosphere” was backed with the track’s original video, hooded figures somber as can be carrying classic photographs of Ian Curtis around a desert landscape. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” featured a similar montage on the backing screen of more pictures of Ian and the band, while the band at hand sung the song and the crowd sung along in praise and remembrance. But the real takeaway here was “Transmission”, honestly. While no one on earth (including Bernard) can snarl “Dance! Dance! Dance!” the way that Ian did on that record, the sentiment was felt here in as close a way as possible. With Stephen still playing that brutal drum break with the prowess and energy of his twenty five year old self and a massive crowd throwing fists in the air like dancing to the radio was the most punk statement that there ever was, “Transmission” was the evening’s pinnacle. For three generations, New Order has given us track after track after track to dance to on the radio and tonight, Seattle got to thank them for that in a small, but wonderful way.
If you need more New Order in your life before the new record next year, look for Bernard Sumner’s New Order and Joy Division memoir Chapter and Verse on shelves this September through Bantam Press. Peter Hook & the Light will return to Seattle in November to play New Order records Low-Life and Brotherhood in their entirety, along with an opening set of Joy Division material. If you got to see them play Movement and Power, Corruption, & Lies as part of Decibel Festival last year, you know that this is not to be missed. Tickets are still available here.