When I discovered that Peter Hook, former bassist for Joy Division and New Order, was planning to tour the US to play a set of Joy Division songs, I jumped at the opportunity to see them perform live. There are a handful of bands that truly changed my life, including Lycia, The Frozen Autumn, Depeche Mode, Type O Negative, Christian Death, and others. But Joy Division was the true standout. Their music on the surface seemed so simple, yet it was packed with an emotional depth that was way ahead of its time and still resonates with listeners 35 years later. The combination of simple melodies mixed with factory-inspired guitar distortion effects and Ian Curtis' signature vocals made this band unlike any other.
I was able to catch Peter Hook and the Light on one of their shows when they stopped at the Exit/In in Nashville, TN. Honestly I had fairly average expectations for this show as Peter Hook is certainly no Ian Curtis, and no one can even come close to replicating Curtis' vocals. My biggest fear was that this would simply come off like a cheap cover band (which my hometown is unfortunately stuck with many times) and would merely pass as an acceptable imitation. When I got in the door though, my expectations were amplified by default as the turnout didn't mirror that of a mere cover band. This place was PACKED! I arrived while local opening band Bad Cop was just finishing their set, and I nearly suffocated in the heat and smell of booze and sweaty hipsters. Needless to say, my night hadn't gotten off to a great start. After retreating to the open air, I met up with an old college friend and headed back into the venue just as the show was beginning.
I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered beforehand that the band was planning an opening New Order set. I actually discovered New Order before Joy Division, and while New Order certainly holds a special place in my heart, the mood and stylings differ greatly from that of Joy Division, especially as New Order grew to become their own band and headed off in a synth pop direction. When the lights dimmed and the opening “Elegia” began to play, my thoughts of this being a mere cover band were squashed instantly. This track made the perfect introduction, and the energy of the crowd helped build the anticipation. The first track was “Dreams Never End” which I think was a perfect New Order track for a Joy Division show. I was hoping that the New Order set would contain material from their first album Movement. New Order's early material from this era was very similar to Joy Division, and I'm a person who enjoys consistency in a show. The next track was “Ceremony”, one of my all-time favorite New Order tracks which was actually created during the era of Joy Division before Ian Curtis' death. From there, the energy picked up with the tracks “Way of Life” from the Brotherhood album and the danceable “State of the Nation.” The final two tracks of the New Order set were “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Temptation”, and the crowd absolutely loved it. I could feel the energy in the room with these tracks, and the audience was in full dance mode by the end of the set.
The danceable spirit of New Order was effectively killed though with the “Closer” set after a brief intermission. The first track was the relatively obscure Joy Division instrumental “Incubation” which definitely sent the message that the New Order set was done and it was time for Joy Division. After the opening song, the entire Closer album was played from “Atrocity Exhibition” to “Decades.” There were quite a few tracks that went over quite well including “Isolation” and “Twenty Four Hours.” Toward the end, the crowd seemed to have become a bit restless as many individuals kept passing in front of me to go back to the bar and back. This made me quite angry and led me to making a comment to my friend about “fucking hipsters who've probably never even heard Joy Division.” I can't fault the band for this though as Closer is a much more intimate album than Unknown Pleasures and comes off to me as more of a personal experience that is best suited to be listened to alone, especially the final couple tracks which are extremely dark and introspective.
After the second intermission, we managed to make our way to the very front of the crowd for the Unknown Pleasures set. I can understand why the band chose to conclude with this album; the tracks are much more “danceable” (if you can call Joy Division danceable) and overall more fast-paced than Closer. Much to my delight, the band started with the non-album track “From Safety To Where...?” which I believe was actually recorded during the Unknown Pleasures sessions. This track is one of my favorite non-album Joy Division tracks and, in my opinion, would have fit quite nicely on Unknown Pleasures. Why the track never made it is...well...unknown. Next came “Disorder” followed by the rest of the album. The energy definitely increased during this set, and by the time “She's Lost Control” was played, the crowd was eating it up. One thing that could have maybe been added was a greater pause between tracks, if only just to build up anticipation. The album tracks were played seamlessly from one to another, and a pause could have helped amplify the crowd even further, especially before tracks like “She's Lost Control”. Probably the most high-energy song on the entire Joy Division set was “Shadowplay.” It's a song that screams “Play me loudly!”, and Peter Hook did not disappoint. The energy remained high throughout “Wilderness” and “Interzone” but calmed back down for the final track of Unknown Pleasures, “I Remember Nothing.” Unlike the closing track on Closer, I thought this song was a bit awkward sounding on both the album and when performed live. Needless to say, I (along with the rest of the crowd) highly doubted that this would be the final song of the show and waited in anticipation as the lights went out for the encore. The band returned for the unreleased song “Digital” and the rocking anthem “Transmission.” Along with “Shadowplay”, this song had the crowd jumping. And finally, as to be expected, the show concluded with the most well-known Joy Division song (and my personal favorite song of all time) “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
Overall this show far exceeded my expectations and is the closest one can truly come to experiencing Joy Division live. I would have liked to hear the unreleased songs “Dead Souls” and “Atmosphere”, but just because they didn't play those tracks in Nashville doesn't mean that you won't hear them live at other venues. The band is known to vary up their setlists from show to show when it comes to the non-album tracks. I enjoyed Peter Hook's snide comments from time to time between songs. He packs quite a bit of wit and sarcasm in his book “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division” which I highly recommend. The backdrop on the stage was quite simple but effective, not surprisingly the front of the Unknown Pleasures album cover. If you get a chance to catch this show while Peter Hook is still on tour, I definitely encourage you to experience it. Far from a cover band, this show exemplified both the spirit of New Order in the opening set, and the mechanical gloom of Joy Division despite the lack of Ian Curtis. But despite his departure from this world, I think he would be quite proud.
- DJ Gomez has been into Goth culture for 13 years. he started The Catacombs in 2007 and have hosted the show on various radio stations and internet platforms. He DJ's for TheRequiem.net on The Belfry Network and for Angst Radio out of Brazil. He's also the co-host of Cemetery Confessions