One damp evening a few months ago, I found myself in a local farmer’s field watching Peter Hook and his band performing old New Order and Joy Division tracks. It was a curious experience – most of the audience looked nearly as old as Hooky (65), now a regular on the retro festival circuit since his bitter break from New Order – and yet hearing those songs again stirred something in me. When a friend mentioned that he had tickets for New Order at the O2 Arena in London, a one-off gig long-delayed by the pandemic, I thought: count me in!
Bernard Sumner is much heavier nowadays and his hair has thinned, but his Mancunian wit remains nicely understated. “I know it’s obvious, but we’re New Order,” he said as he emerged on stage on Saturday 6 November, before launching straight into “Regret”.
Sumner encouraged the audience “to have some fun” and, on the whole, we did. His voice held up through the 20-song set and he played guitar with energy and purpose. Both he and drummer Stephen Morris were wearing glasses and Gillian Gilbert, on keyboards, was as inscrutable as ever, scarcely moving, as if she occupied her own zone of silence, oblivious to the ferocity of the guitar riffs and the relentless electronic beats.
I was reminded of the first time I’d seen New Order live in Brixton in 1983, a few weeks before the release of “Blue Monday”. They were under assault for being “disco barmy” from a faction of Joy Division hardliners at the front, and early on it seemed as if Hooky was preparing to dive into the crowd for a fight. That was nearly 40 years ago, and here they were in London once again, New Order as they are today, much older and much richer, without Peter Hook, but still adored by a loyal fan base of neurotic boy outsiders who have aged with them. All rather poignant.
We didn’t stay for the encore and regretted it: New Order wrapped up with three Joy Division classics, “Atmosphere”, “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.
This piece appears in the forthcoming issue of the New Statesman magazine, subscribe here.
This article appears in the 10 Nov 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Behind the Masks