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- New Order »
The first time I saw New Order was a religious experience. The last time I saw them was boring. Unlike most bands, New Order have always been contrary buggers - doing exactly what they wanted, whenever they wanted, because they could. The trouble with this is, if they don't want to do something, it'll be awful. Only some 10 or 11 dates into the tour and they seem to have already fallen slightly into the trap of the single-album-tour boredom. Still, it makes a nice change to see New Order touring - the last time they played a tour anywhere near this length anywhere in the world was 1989.
Over the course of three nights, they thrill, and they bore. They excite, and they embarrass. And there are moments where even the most avid fan will wince. Every night they perform to a venue with dull, flat acoustics. I've never heard such awful sound at a gig ever. It's bouncing off the walls and coming back at you like a radar signal bouncing back from a chunky bomber.
Of the near identical sets they perform each night there are some consistent moments of awfulness. 'Close Range' from the new album sounds little more than a fuddled mess every night. In fact, it takes me until well into the song to recognise what it is. On the first night it sounds as if the whole band are playing different songs at the same time. 'True Faith' doesn't fare much better either - Hooky seems to play a different song and fudge his parts all over the intro and the sound mix is at best uneven.
Though the biggest cringe factor comes in the crap, generic, should-not-have-been-recorded 'Rock The Shack', a sub-Stooges, vapid, empty rock out, which features Bobby Gillespie lolloping around on vocals. I never thought I'd be bored at a New Order gig. Even 'Blue Monday', a song of no small significance, is tired now. It's ended almost every gig they've played since 1989. Perhaps as a sign that even they are bored with it, New Order have started to truncate the song as much as possible, cutting intros and long extended endings, as if to somehow get over the albatross that it has become round their necks.
But there are moments of brilliance. A glance at the set list will show that the band have, in the words of Billy Corgan, a legacy better than The Beatles, if maybe not so well known. 'Crystal', 'Transmission', 'Regret', 'Ceremony', '60mph', 'Your Silent Face', 'Atmosphere', 'Close Range', 'Touched By The Hand Of God', 'Bizarre Love Triangle', 'True Faith', 'Temptation', 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', 'Ruined In A Day', 'Blue Monday'. (and 'Rock The Shack' on some nights as well). And look also at what they leave out: 'Confusion', 'Fine Time', '1963', 'Round & Round', 'Run', 'World', 'Thieves Like Us', 'The Perfect Kiss'.
The problem is most of those songs were recorded between 1978 and 1987. Only six songs of the sixteen played are less than 14 years old. But there are two simple things that you should remember: firstly, they are brilliant songs - connecting on an emotional, musical, and spiritual level, and secondly, these songs still sound exciting and current even now, some twenty years after some of them were recorded.
There's still the intangible thrill factor of hearing the opening bars of 'Regret' that make grown men weep and cheer. There's still a retro-tag around New Order that they can't escape purely by virtue of their age. There's still moments of absolute genius - near enough all the songs listed above that shaped some of the music of today and definitely influenced some of the biggest selling artists of all time.
And there's moments of comedy - Hooky pulling silly faces, duckwalking around the stage and knocking keyboards and cameras over, temporary session-musician Phil Cunningham's mocking foot-on-monitor guitar solo, Barney's dreadful Drunk Granddad dancing, the impromptu, comical set-closing attempts by Hooky to play songs entirely on his own as he veers through 'Age Of Consent' and 'Dreams Never End'. Perhaps unintentionally funny, but I also found this somewhat sad, the typical much-like-every-other-stadium-band black backing vocalist stuck at the back in a slinky dress.
If you like New Order you'd like this - a sometimes thrilling, sometimes drab grab bag chosen largely from the new album and the "best of" compilations. The sound may have been awful, the set-lists may have been a bit predictable, the best years behind them, but there's something about grown men - who really should know better - crying when legends are playing songs they grew up with that's oddly, strangely, more compelling than anything else. It's certainly far better and more exciting to see this, old men grinning like children and having a great time playing music that still sounds fresh and exciting, than to see young men in the shape of Starsailor, or Toploader, or Whoever, trying to sound old, dull, and boring.
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