Peter Hook and The Light performing Closer
September 17, 2011
Better than: Sitting at home listening to old records by yourself
"That was fucking intense" Peter Hook said, right at the beginning of the encore. He wasn't kidding.
Closer is an intense album, so a performance of the whole thing live wasn't exactly going to be a laid back experience. And it wasn't - Hook spent the whole show on Saturday scowling and glaring, brow permanently furrowed. Which isn't that surprising, considering what he was singing about. Lyrically speaking, Closer sounds like documentation of a man losing his mind -- because that's basically what it is. To perform it in a chirpy, upbeat sort of way would seem disrespectful given the way that Joy Division singer Ian Curtis's suicide looms over the album.
It's a heavy burden to carry: Trying to do justice to what's probably your own greatest work while at the same time paying adequate respect to the memory of a dead friend. You could see it weighing down on Hook for sure - he barely cracked a smile during the main set, instead looking entirely focused on just getting through the whole thing and doing it justice.
He did a good job, with able support from the rest of the band. "Dead Souls" was definitely the highlight of the main set, its somber beauty the perfect encapsulation of everything that made Joy Division special. "Isolation" and "Heart and Soul" were also clear crowd favorites, with "Isolation" in particular offering hints as to the direction the rest of the band would eventually take as New Order. The menacing bitterness of "A Means to An End" also worked perfectly live.
Speaking of the crowd, it was quieter than the one that turned up to see Hook run through the band's Unknown Pleasures last year. Maybe it was Hook's demeanor that set the mood, or maybe it was the songs themselves, but the feeling during the main set was more subdued and reverent than last year's show at the same venue. People were definitely happy to see Hook, and clearly enthralled by the music itself, but it wasn't until the encore that both band and audience collectively let loose.
It's funny that a song as fundamentally unhappy as "She's Lost Control" can produce such a happy, excited response in an audience. Maybe it's because it's just such a great song. For female audience members, maybe the fact that it's one of only a handful of songs written by a man about a woman that isn't part of the usual "I love you/I hate you/why did you leave me you bitch?" continuum of writing about relationships. Whatever the reason, just like last year, it was one of the songs that the crowd was waiting for.
The song that really broke the spell of reverent gloom, though, was "Transmission." Probably the most upbeat track in the entire Joy Division repertoire, it's also a brilliant song to hear live, and the sight of people in their 30s and 40s pogoing along was one of the highlights of the evening.
It was during "Love Will Tear Us Apart," though, where the show really hit its peak and the audience's love for the band that everyone was there to celebrate really took over. Quite literally - they were singing so loud that Hook stopped and just let them handle the vocals for a while. "You're going to put me out of a job," he complained, "I don't have many jobs left!' But it was with a smile on his face.
In the end it was the audience's devotion that melted Hook's notoriously frosty and intimidating stage persona. The finale of the show was a love-in, with Hook declaring that "You've made an old man very happy" in an uncharacteristic display of sentimentality. Was that a tear that we saw in the corner of his eye?
Personal bias: Closer is one of my favorite albums, and Permanent was the first CD I ever bought with my own money. You know I was going to love this show.
The crowd: Quiet and reverent for most of the show, but positively overflowing with joy during the encore.
Overheard in the crowd: Everyone's personal Joy Division anecdotes from the '70s.
Random notebook dump: I did not know that you could fit that many people inside Mezzanine. It was a great show, but I'm glad I didn't have to get to the bar or the bathroom in the middle, because it was packed.
Did you know?: That the guy playing bass while Hooky was too busy singing? That was his son. If you didn't know, you should, because he's the resemblance was striking.