The prospect of a bunch of chancers playing the first two New Order albums in their entirety, in sequence and in order doesn't sound very appealing.
When that same bunch of chancers is fronted by ex-New Order bassist Peter Hook–that's a different prospect. Three shows in carefully selected venues made Hooky's runthrough of Movement and Power, Corruption And Lies a must-see, and Doco Dom and I were very lucky indeed to get tickets.
No-one at a sold-out Koko in London's hip Camden Town knew what they were going to get, although the worry that we were to be witness to a lazy, phoned-in performance was heavy on everyone's mind.
What we were given was the opposite. Hooky was front and centre, delivering vocals, melodica and his iconic bass sound. This gig was clearly a big deal for him. Hooky made several barbed comments about his nervousness, and, only half-jokingly, how his barrister had advised him to do the gigs. His reputation was, to an extent, on the line here. This was nothing short of an attempt to reclaim New Order's early work, which is based heavily on his clangy, resonant bass lines.
So for me, then, it was a bit of a shock to see how little bass he played last night. Instead, he concentrated largely on getting the vocals right–a task he managed admirably, his voice a strong baritone that feels much more Ian Curtis than Bernard Sumner. This gave Movement a particular frisson. New Order's first album had always been a cross-point, shedding the skin of Joy Division. Performing these songs in a Curtis-like croon made that transition all the clearer. Granted, Hooky delivered vocals on a couple of tracks on Movement, but hearing the whole album with that voice was still a strange experience.
As he's always been the most extroverted member of the band, it was also a bit odd to see just how uncomfortable Hooky was in the spotlight. The nerves were very clearly on show, and he obviously hated playing the melodica, tossing it back in its cradle on his mikestand almost before the last note of a part had been finished. He insisted on replaying the last verse of Denial after forgetting his lines, “like a twat”, as he put it, and he only really seemed to relax during the encore, ripping through Temptation, up on a speaker stack, hammering at his bass. He's not a front man, and it's a brave choice for him to choose not to stalk the backline and let someone else take over vocal duties. Who else could do it, though? I'd love to have been a fly on the wall at those meetings.
These gigs mean a lot to Hooky and to the New Order fanbase at large. I think there's a large proportion of that base that would like nothing more than to see him mess up royally. I'm happy to report that wasn't the case, although there were some odd moments when I wondered. He clearly can't sing and play at the same time, leading to the cognitive dissonance of someone else playing the Hooky basslines while he sings. The band were well-drilled and solid. It seemed strange that Hooky would choose a guitar player that looked so much like Bernie Sumner. But then, he also chose a drummer that was the absolute spit of misanthropic comedian Stewart Lee.
Ultimately, it comes down to the material. You don't dick around with two albums as well loved as these, and Hooky and The Light didn't slack off. When they finally roared into Blue Monday, Koko went berserk, and with good reason. I think we were fearing a car-crash. We got a solid and loving readthrough of songs we know and love, and getting to see Hooky play up close was a treat.
Not quite a triumph, but nowhere near the carcrash we were perhaps expecting. Your turn, New Order…