WORDS AND IMAGES BY PAUL EVANS
After being rescheduled several times in the last two years, “Peter Hook & The Light’s Celebration: Joy Division” is finally arriving at Manchester’s legendary 02 Apollo tonight. The chance to hear a performance of one of the most influential British band’s first two albums in the iconic Art Deco building is going to be epic and emotional. Whether it’s the dark Victorian archways, rundown backstreets, the Neo-gothic Town Hall or the ominous, sparsely lit contemporary flats the sound of Joy Division is engrained in Manchester. Throw in a set of New Order classics and I ask myself do setlists and gigs have the potential to be this special and memorable?
Salford Jets, fronted by local radio legend Mike Sweeney are supporting tonight and I see Mike mingling, chatting and laughing with punters outside the packed pub next to the venue as I walk through the crowd. First formed in the halcyon days of the 1970s, Salford Jets and Mike Sweeney have a special place in the life of fellow Salfordian Peter Hook. He introduces the band as the “first band I ever saw” and “I didn’t know what a big part he’d end up playing in my life” before the bands short set of perfectly played punk songs. “Who You Lookin’ At?”, “Don’t Start Trouble” and the gloriously titled “Gina (I’ve Got a Cortina)” are an impeccable start to the reflective night. Leaving the stage to massive applause, Mike is ecstatic thanking Peter and smilingly adding “Not bad for two guys from Salford”.
As the last bars of the theme from “The Vikings” subside there’s an eerie quiet amongst the heaving crowd as the stage lights fade. In the darkness, Peter sits on a stool and begins the emotional, spiritual and vocal-less “Elegia” from LowLife, the bands lament to Ian. Bass, Rebelskis’ synthesised Emulator, David’s drenched guitar and Paul’s percussion beautifully and emotionally executed in the electric blue lights. The crowd is heaving, hardly moving, captivated.
It’s an isolated, peaceful but spine-tingling opening before we’re bombarded with classic song after classic song. The vastly underrated and rarely played “Cries and Whispers” ends and something happens on stage with Peter quipping “I know what I’m doing… “, smilingly adding “If you believe that you’ll believe anything”; “Regret” has the crowd bouncing and singing “I would like a place I could call my own, have a conversation on the telephone”; Monaco’s “What Do You Want From Me?” is introduced as “this is for my wife”, his Monaco partner David Potts on guitar tonight, providing exceptional vocals; “True Faith” is wryly introduced with “I feel so extraordinary” all before the band end the first set by returning to Lowlife for an awe inspiring “The Perfect Kiss”. It’s a perfect start.
As the emotional “Ode to Saint Anthony” fades from the PA, Peter recalls the first time Joy Division played this venue supporting Buzzcocks in 1979. “We were terrified, Ian said, ‘I tell you what we do, we’ll play Dead Souls and suss the audience out’. So that’s what we’re going to play now and hopefully Ian will suss you out” he says pointing to the heavens, before a faultless performance of the non-album track explodes into its huge climax. Unknown Pleasures is unquestionably a timeless milestone in music. “Disorder” hisses with angst and claustrophobia, its emotionless, rapid-fire drums and tense guitar offset by faultless vocals; “She’s Lost Control” is frantic, the drums are intense, the bass swaggering on the edge of the stage. The raw energy of the album perfectly played live has the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. Its power recoils around the Apollo’s walls and I feel the crowd begin to move behind me. Peter is measured between songs, choosing to start the next track rather than produce much small talk. During the lead-up to vocal lines he bounces, reminiscent of a boxer about to go into the ring and he moves vigorously showing off his bass playing, angrily pointing and stabbing the air to reinforce lyrics. Hauntingly his vocals are naturally reminiscent of Ian, and I think of his vocals on “Dreams never end”. In the interval I wander upstairs, strike up a conversation with one of the directors of the Joy Division play “New Dawn Fades” and notice a photo of Ian on an ornate TV screen staring back at me. The spirit of Ian Curtis is in the building tonight.
Closer follows Unknown Pleasures and it’s performed with painstaking emotion and memories of the past. “Isolation” is virtually joyful until Peter delivers the words. “Heart and Soul” is unembellished, the stuttering beat and melodious bass weave and loop together perfectly. Emotional versions of “The Eternal” and “Decades” slow the pace, the crowd cheering and clapping above their heads. Its all perfectly played and as I chat to fans and friends of Joy Division in the huge crowd I’m told some have been tears as its the first time they’ve heard some of these songs since Ian sang them back in the day. It really is a transcendental experience and once again it feels like the spirit of Ian Curtis is in the building completing some unfinished business.
No matter how brilliant Closer and Unknown Pleasures are, Joy Division’s greatness could arguably be defined by the last four songs of the night, “Atmosphere”, “Ceremony”, “Transmission” and “Love will tear us apart”. Dedicated to Paul Ryder, Steve Shy and to “the many people we have lost”, the ominous passion of “Atmosphere” provides one of the many awe-inspiring moments of the night. People around me are either in tears, singing or stood open mouthed. Peter dedicates “Transmission” to his daughter Jessica, before its unmistakable bassline has everybody leaping up and down singing “Dance, dance, dance to the radio”. “Ceremony’s” driving two note bassline, gossiping cymbals and slanted chords rushes the song towards its resplendent end. Peter prowls the stage playing in his iconic stance as the centre of the crowd jump and stab their hands in the air singing “Oh, I’ll break them down, no mercy shown, Heaven knows it’s got to be this time” in the blinding rays of white strobes and red lights. Wow.
The only possible song to end the set has its title written on a memorial stone in a Macclesfield Cemetery. “Sweeney, this one’s for you my best mate” declares Peter before launching into “Love will tear us apart”. The whole crowd push forward, everyone’s hands stabbing the air. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up again as 3000 people sing those anthemic seven words at the top of their voices back to the band. I’ve not seen a crowd react to a song like this for a very, very long time, if at all. In fact, I haven’t. It’s probably the best performance and emotional reaction I’ve ever seen at a gig. A bass guitar is held in the air, a shirt is thrown into the crowd, the band hug each other and then they’re gone. It’s an end to an astounding, astounding gig. A gig I won’t be forgetting for a long, long time. Wow. Simply, Wow.
2/ Cries and Whispers
4/ What Do You Want from Me?
5/ Vanishing Point
6/ True Faith
7/ The Perfect Kiss
Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures + Dead Souls
1/ Dead Souls
3/ Day of the Lords
6/ New Dawn Fades
7/ She’s Lost Control
11/ I Remember Nothing
Joy Division – Closer
1/ Atrocity Exhibition
5/ A Means to an End
6/ Heart and Soul
7/ Twenty-Four Hours
8/ The Eternal
4/ Love Will Tear Us Apart
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