Songs about heartbreak are usually pretty straightforward. Boy meets girl, girl dumps boy, boy sulks. But “True Faith” by New Order fiercely subverts that paradigm. “A sudden sense of liberty,” unbidden, provides sweet perspective.
A sulky 19-year-old named Mickey sent the lyrics to his first love after he was dumped, but it wasn’t the accusing “you took my time and you took my money” that inspired the email but rather the extraordinary experience of “delight in the shade of the morning sun.”
If you’re a member of Gen X, young enough to spend your lovelorn formative years in the tail end of the ‘80s, then New Order was a band designed for you. Dr. Martens, another icon of our generation, this summer released shoes with New Order album covers imprinted on them, reminding us of the grace and beauty in the work of artist Peter Saville. Peter’s art is the perfect visual representation of New Order’s sonic aesthetic — glittering and lean, using space ingeniously and imparting a sense of wonder. It is grandeur in simplicity.
On stage at The Anthem on Tuesday, Bernard Sumner was the perfect guide through this audio landscape. At 62, he cut a distinguished figure, but throughout him shown the boyish savant who composed “Blue Monday” with his bandmates Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, and Gillian Gilbert a few short years after the suicide of Ian Curtis, who fronted Joy Division with Barney, Stephen, and Hooky. There is something quintessentially British about the music of New Order, and it’s a little bit like we all lived in Manchester ourselves with them for the briefest of times in our youth.
Songs like “True Faith” and “Blue Monday” — both played Tuesday — are perfect constructs — glacial, welcoming, crystalline, brilliant, encompassing, precise. Clutching his guitar, Bernard strode through the lights and shadows cast by these monoliths, his icy tenor conducting us along a journey into sound.
And what sounds they were — 19 crisp tunes, the latter three drawn from the outfit’s time as Joy Division. Most of the songs were well-known to the sold-out room, and it was all too easy to spot an admirer, young or old, singing along to any one of them, perhaps with tears of joy welling up in the corners of their eyes.
Alongside such giants as “The Perfect Kiss” from 1985’s Low-Life and “Bizarre Love Triangle” from 1986’s Brotherhood came relatively newer classics like “Crystal” from 2001’s Get Ready and “Waiting for the Siren’s Call” from 2005’s album of the same name. New Order played all of these songs, fashioning them as something familiar yet new — their live arrangements flickering at the memory of the impenetrable original compositions and fanning them into something distinctly their own. (“Waiting for the Siren’s Call” took on particularly inviting new life in its stage rendition.) Through this passageway gently fell every single attendee, getting down on their knees to pray that final moment not come too soon.
Mixed in with these songs were selections from New Order’s surprisingly marvelous latest album, 2015’s Music Complete — a refreshing entry in a storied catalog where even ardent supporters might have anticipated only a glimmer of greatness. Music Complete instead materialized as pure gold in a time where true originals, particularly those with synthesizers, had little of value to offer. And so, New Order seamlessly presented “Singularity,” “Plastic,” and others as part of a wholly integrated set that was nothing less than tone perfect.
These new songs remind us that New Order has changed over the years, growing in ways both expected and unexpected, like the middle-aged original consumers of their music. The fold now includes guitarist Phil Cunningham and bassist Tom Chapman, while Joy Division and New Order co-founder Peter Hook stands apart in a rift with his former band. His absence was surely felt — few musicians have so much raw power as Hooky. Poor Tom Chapman could easily draw the ire of a purist; bass is so important to these songs. But no such regret was felt at The Anthem, where the rapturous crowd applauded every member of the band, which indeed surpassed expectations at every turn.
Toward the end of the main set, Barney stepped away from his guitar to stand aside Gillian on synths for “Blue Monday,” and like a flash, it’s 35 years ago as Stephen spun the indelible “rat-a-tat-tat” of the song’s backbone. The vocalist next conferred with Stephen, Phil began to clap aloud, and the rumble of “Temptation” closed the main set as 6,000 giddy revelers tripped over themselves dancing along.
The image of the late Ian Curtis filled the backwall during an encore of “Atmosphere,” “She’s Lost Control,” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” punctuating the tragic romance of the band. A snappy beat paired with occasionally somber lyrics, and the resulting emotions came pouring out of a collective soul warming The Anthem.
Somewhere in the echoes of that gracefully restrained passion lurked a lonely teen who suddenly felt happy and free.
Here are some pictures of New Order performing at The Anthem on Aug. 28, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Kyle Gustafson.