The right “Atmosphere” for Hair Club for Men.
Peter Hook‘s New York City show (and first date of his U.S. tour) was moved from Irving Plaza (1,200 capacity) to the smaller Gramercy Theatre, catching a number of walkups off-guard when the show sold out.
I wasn’t so hot on the t-shirts for sale. They would have been so much cooler if they didn’t say “Joy Division” and “Manchester” at the bottom. Strangely, even though Hooky was going to perform Closer in its entirety at certain stops on the tour, no Closer shirt.
No opening band, either, but the audience was “treated” to video that seemed to be about 35 minutes long. I say “treated” because it didn’t give anything new to the Joy Division fan, particularly the fan who was enthused enough to see one-fourth of the band perform its second album. I definitely didn’t need to see Ian Curtis’ spastic dances with 80s video effects interspersed with unintelligible (due to accent and volume issues) interview segments with Peter Hook. I took a seat in the back to wait it out. Every time there was some quiet, people yelled, “Just play!” I’m sure the entire audience felt that way.
Finally the screen lifted and Peter Hook, with the members of his backing band The Light, took to the stage: Hook’s son Jack Bates (bass), Nat Watson (guitar), Andy Poole (keyboards), and Paul Kehoe (drums). Why two bassists? Well, Peter can’t sing and play at the same time, so he plays the more distinctive bass intros (“Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Isolation” and “24 Hours,” for example) and then drops out to sing. Too bad, too, because Jack does a well-enough job but isn’t able yet to fill those shoes (or provide simultaneous low- and high-frequency ear-thumping that his dad does).
Not sufficiently enigmatic.
Yes, Hooky still slings the bass low and has a wide-leg stance. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with his body and does an in-place shuffle of an outlaw ready to duel in the Old West.
They kicked off with the instrumental “Incubation,” one of the b-sides to the “Komakino” flexi. It was angry and menacing, a sonic reaction to the news the previous week that New Order was reforming with all original members except for Hook, who wasn’t even asked to rejoin. A slew of interviews originally slated for this tour pried for his reactions to the reformation. I wondered if he would kick of a number saying, “See you in hell, Barney!” but Hooky didn’t address the audience directly until the encore.
In terms of Hooky’s singing, I don’t think he was trying to emulate Ian directly but there is a similarity in their vocal tone, particularly during more anguished passages in songs and most eerily in the whole of “Transmission.”
Some may ask what right the bassist has in presenting himself as the front man in a Joy Division tribute. Actually Hooky has more of a right to sing these songs than guitarist Bernard Sumner. Sumner went on to be the singer of New Order, but it was Hooky who sang backup vocals in Joy Division. A few days after the gig, I can’t imagine anybody else singing.
The first beats of “Isolation” sent scattered parts of the crowd pogoing. “Heart and Soul” also audibly roused people. After the album closer to Closer, the haunting “Decades,” Hook unhooked his bass and walked offstage for The Light to finish out the two minutes instrumental close.
“Ice Age” in the encore was a surprise and came off great but in the middle of the song Jack’s bass strap unhooked and he had to finish on his knees to keep playing. Hooky chastised him for the slipup.
Before “Atmosphere,” Hooky addressed the New Order reformation without him. “I thought I’d have the fucking week from hell,” he said, but thanked crowd for coming as it lifted his spirits.
There was some altercation in the audience during “Atmosphere” and Hooky stopped the band and refused to play until about six people were hustled out.
No other song could close the show and Hooky dedicated “Love Will Tear Us Apart” to Tom Atencio “because you know who your fucking friends are when the going gets tough.” Atencio was New Order’s North America manager for 18 years and was a producer of Joy Division, the documentary directed by Grant Gee.
During the song, Hooky ran off to both extremes of the stage, managing to topple himself halfway through “Love.” He looked like a turtle on his back and Nat Watson had to help him up.
“Don’t you bastards be putting that on YouTube, will ya?” he shouted at the end of the show before walking off.
A minute later Hooky returned to the stage bare-chested and threw his shirt out to the crowd. After it was clear that another encore wasn’t coming, a 50-year old white male leaped onstage and sing “Louie Louie” into the microphone but was swiftly escorted off.
Set List: Incubation, Dead Souls, Auto-Suggestion, From Safety to Where, Atrocity Exhibition, Isolation, Passover, Colony, Means to an End, Heart and Soul, 24 Hours, The Eternal, Decades
Encore: These Days, Ice Age, Atmosphere, Transmission, Love Will Tear Us Apart