It’s rare that a band are their own support act, but that was definitely how it felt in the case of Peter Hook and The Light. Performing both the New Order and the Joy Division versions of Substance in their entirety split the night into two even halves, and it was clear that the majority of the audience were mainly there for the second part of the show. That’s not to say that the New Order focused part of the evening didn’t go down well, because it did. Tracks such as ‘Ceremony’, ‘Temptation’, ‘Blue Monday’, and ‘True Faith’ received the excited reception that their classic status deserves. But at other times during the first hour and a half, it felt like people were checking their watches and waiting for the songs by the band on their t-shirt.
The Joy Division fans in the crowd may have also, quite fairly, been concerned about how well Peter Hook, the bassist in the original band, would perform the songs as a front man. He is, let’s be honest, no Ian Curtis. But those doubts will have been somewhat eased throughout the New Order set because, despite the sometimes awkward stance created by his low slung guitars, Hook proved to be an entertaining main man with a more than adequate voice. It turns out that being considered the third best singer in one of the best bands of all time means that you’re actually pretty damn good yourself.
But on to the main event. Beginning with ‘No Love Lost’ it was immediately obvious that the performance had stepped up a few notches. Maybe that’s down to the Joy Division songs just being that bit better, maybe it’s down to Hooky having a deeper connection with his original band’s music, or maybe it’s just that he is more suited to the punky style of Joy Division’s music than the 80s electronica of New Order. Whatever the reason, as soon as ‘No Love Lost’ kicked in it was clear that the night had really begun.
This sense continued through renditions of ‘Glass’, ‘From Safety to Where…?’, ‘Komakino’, and ‘These Days’. It was not only the main man that was performing with more zeal and energy, but also the very capable band that surrounded him. Okay, they’re not the real thing, but they might be as close as fans today are going to get. And things improved further still with stellar performances of ‘Warsaw’, ‘Leaders of Men’, and ‘Digital’. These were followed by ‘Autosuggestion’, inarguably one of the highlights of the night. This song in particular seemed to suit the singer, his vocal inadequacies (compared to Curtis, anyway), less obvious due to the style of the song.
But the real highlights could possibly have been guessed before the show even started. Buoyed by a now almost hysterical crowd, the band bashed out rousing and raucous renditions of both ‘Transmission’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’. And then, after a version of ‘Atmosphere’ that was never going to live up to its predecessor, came ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Many Joy Division aficionados will tell you that this isn’t their favourite song by the band, but there can be no arguing with its brilliance. There can also be no arguing with the fact that it got the best reception of the night. The moment when the audience sang the chorus on repeat was almost spine-tingling, as was the look on Hooky’s face as he turned to his band and shrugged. ‘Just let them sing,’ he seemed to be saying. This was a very Manchester moment, and you could tell from the look on his face that it meant a lot.
So the doubts were firmly pushed aside by the end of the night. No, Peter Hook will never be Ian Curtis. But then who is? And even without Ian, the songs he left behind still sound bloody beautiful live. What started as an evening that could go either way, ended up being nothing less than joyful.