Friday, Oct. 5, 2012
Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: Watching 24 Hour Party People, in case you were worried.
British post-punk royalty New Order played its first U.S. show in seven years at the Fox Theater on Friday night. And despite the absence of original bassist Peter Hook, who acrimoniously left the group in 2007, the sold-out Oakland show was pretty freaking glorious: We got a setlist flush with hits, a dizzying, hyperactive light show that ranks among the best we've ever seen at a midsize theater, and a very boisterous crowd.
We also got a demonstration of the power of New Order's somewhat revolutionary rock-dance hybrid -- and it still sounds fresh in 2012, even with everyone jumping on the oonce-oonce bandwagon. "Ceremony" -- which arrived second in Friday's set, to huge applause -- is a perfect example: Pairing a melancholy melody with a relentless beat gives the song a multivalent tension, an energetic sense of longing, that feels good for way more than its four-plus minutes. But then so do most of New Order's great, fast songs, and we were treated to many of them: the racing "Age of Consent," the insistent "Temptation," the mega-cheer-inducing "True Faith," and -- obviously -- huge single "Blue Monday," which got drawn out into a deep breakdown and buildup, and drew pretty much the loudest applause of the night.
Onstage were original New Order members Bernard Sumner (vocals/guitars), Stephen Morris (drums), and Gillian Gilbert (keys). In Hook's spot on the bass was Tom Chapman. For the most part the group was all-business onstage, with the rather stolid-looking Sumner taking a few opportunities to vogue around when he wasn't weighed down by a guitar. Any lack of visual excitement was compensated for by the light show, which blasted brightly colored matrices of light all around the room in a bewildering display.
It wasn't totally perfect. The band used its encore to pay tribute to Joy Division, out of whose ashes New Order was formed in 1980. And while in theory, hearing two of that bands original members play "Love Will Tear Us Apart" should've been a highlight, its version felt more awkward than transcendent. Sumner's voice simply doesn't have the blackened depths that Ian Curtis' did, and the band's bloated arrangements -- which bolstered New Order's songs -- got in the way here.
Still, most of the nearly two-hour show was a joy. Sumner seemed especially to be elated to be there: He ended nearly every song by raising his hands above his head and yelling, "Thank you, cheers!" into the mic with a forcefulness that had a touch of finality. For those of us who only got to know New Order only past its prime -- through films like 24 Hour Party People -- the show was a tantalizing taste of this revolutionary band. Obviously we'd have wished to see Hook there, too -- a dream that seems increasingly unlikely -- but we can hardly complain about the version of New Order we got on Friday.