Peter Hook, former bassist for Joy Division and New Order, is willing to bet that we are not soon to forget that he contributed significantly to the sound of both bands. If Hooky were a gambling man, this gambit paid off well for him indeed, as he wrapped up a successful US tour of tracks found on the Substance compilations by both bands — a tour where many stops sold out and a local visit to the Howard Theatre last Wednesday drew a very full house indeed.
In Peter Hook & The Light, Hooky’s touring band, the Man from Manchester has reunited with his former bandmates in Monaco, who recorded two very good albums together in the 1997 and 2000 while New Order was on hiatus. In addition, Jack Bates, Hooky’s son, makes for two bassists in the band — a delightful augmentation that results in a deft doubling down on those signature New Order basslines.
Well, this is all well and good, you might say, but how is the actual music? Joy Division and New Order are both famously adored by Generation X, myself among the most ardent of us, and so we have a particularly high standard for how these songs sound. When New Order tour around, as they did earlier this year on their own Hooky-less new album, we flock to the show, anointing it with our justifiable admiration.
But let me assure you that Peter Hook & The Light are no less worthy of our admiration. I may be preaching to the choir here given how many shows sold out on the Substance tour, but Hooky brings talent and determination to his past catalog. As I’ve said previously, he is a man determined not to let go of his past, and that past is replete with amazing songs, which he and his band render with astounding aplomb.
In Wednesday’s show, Peter Hook & The Light performed a 16-song set of New Order and followed that up with a 15-song set of Joy Division after a brief intermission. From the opening notes of “Lonesome Tonight,” Hooky and company had our crowd by the ears and everyone in the house was dancing by the time the band were a few songs deep into “Ceremony” and “Everything’s Gone Green.”
In a pleasant surprise, David Potts, former lead vocalist in Monaco, takes lead vocals for a few of the New Order songs beginning with “Confusion.” When Monaco was active more than 15 years ago, David’s singing often drew comparisons to that of New Order’s Bernard Sumner for having a similar sort of remote warmth. Yet that familiarity was very welcome indeed during David’s turns on lead vocals, particularly when the sparkling synths of particular New Order songs seemed better suited to David’s tenor than Hooky’s gruff growl.
Hooky personally truly delivers in a raucous rendition of “Perfect Kiss,” which starts with its instantly recognizable synthesizer. Somewhat humorously, Paul Kehoe, the excellent drummer with Peter Hook & The Light, is sidelined for the opening sequence of the song, left to admire the building instrumentation elsewhere on stage with the rest of us. As the song gets rolling, Hooky and David trade vocals. But when the song winds down, it’s a one-man show as Hooky blows everyone away with a stomping, extended bass sequence that alone is worth the price of admission to the show.
The band closes the New Order set with outstanding versions of “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “True Faith” prior to wrapping with “1963.”
The Joy Division set that follows makes better use of Hooky’s vocal as it’s more of a rock-n-roll show than the dance-oriented New Order material. As a musician, Hooky is a professional, and to me he seems very much cut from the industrial heart of urban Manchester that birthed Joy Division in the mid to late ‘70s. Our man may have a head for business and literature, but he’s also got a heart for hard work and grinding through a job. That latter aspect of Hooky serves him well in the Joy Division material. As poetic as it can be, the Joy Division songs at their best demand an urgency with a potent punch of guitar rock, and here Hooky really owns the stage.
As the Joy Division set progresses, the songs lend themselves more to dancing along, and the latter half is a celebration of everything that made Joy Division great — biting lyrics, a sense of loss, simple but effective rhythms, and a smart mix of instruments. Hooky really gets my attention with a sublime performance of “Autosuggestion,” and the rest is really quite impressive as he hits highlights like “Transmission,” “She’s Lost Control,” and “Dead Souls.”
Hooky dedicates “Atmosphere” to the late Craig Gill, drummer of fellow Mancunian band Inspiral Carpets, who passed away on Nov. 22. Peter Hook & The Light close the show on a blistering performance of the ever-anthemic “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
Peter Hook & The Light have one remaining North American show — tomorrow in Toronto — then they take off for South America for a bit in December. Hooky and the band have been good about including the United States in their touring plans, and so it is that we can only hope we will see them again soon. Believe me when I say the show is necessary viewing if you want to comprehend the full force and range of the Joy Division catalog for sure. And again, wow, the band do a tremendous service to the crystalline sounds of the New Order songs.
Here are some more pictures of Peter Hook & The Light performing at The Howard Theatre on Wednesday, Nov. 23 (all photos copyright and courtesy of Paivi):