New Order

New Order were a shining star in the music black hole that was the 1980s. They have never really gone away, having intermittently continued to produce good albums and to tour. The band emerged from the ashes of the legendary Joy Division, after lead singer Ian Curtis’s death. Their first album, Movement, was really a transition album where they searched for a new direction. Then along came the second album, Power, Corruption and Lies, along with the mega Blue Monday 12” single (reputedly the biggest ever selling 12”).

The band were suddenly transformed from purveyors of dirges to popular exponents of upbeat electronica and dance music. However, the music was always intelligent and it had a foot in all camps, including mainstream rock. There has never really been another band remotely like them in style, they are unique. So it is great to see one of my all-time favourite groups back again for a sold-out gig at the Birmingham Ballroom. There are a lot of punters in their 40s and 50s tonight along with many younger folk sampling New Order for the first time.

Jake Evans

New Order’s members have also formed various offshoot bands in the periods when New Order itself was inactive. For example, singer and guitarist, Bernard Sumner, formed Bad Lieutenant in 2009. So it is not surprising that tonight’s support is Jake Evans. Evans was guitarist in Bad Lieutenant, but tonight he fronts his own three-piece guitar, bass and drums band. The band turns in a well-received set, with the New Order influence evident. The last number (title unknown), with a building-guitar part, sounded pretty epic.

New Order

Finally New Order come on stage in subdued light to Elegia, a beautiful instrumental from the 1985 Low Life album. There is a rapturous reception from the packed-out venue. With no new album to promote (although an album of outtakes from their last album sessions is due out), the band proceed to treat the audience to a glorious trip through their extensive back catalogue – a selection from the last seven albums, spanning their 30 year career!

New Order

Unfortunately the sound quality at the Ballroom isn’t too good and Bernard’s vocals are rather buried in the muddy mix throughout the evening. However, the show is pretty sizzling, with a terrific light show, and the band are clearly enjoying themselves. Some numbers seem to work better than others. The Perfect Kiss and Bizarre Love Triangle sounded pretty darn good, for example, whereas 586 got a bit lost and the subtlety of the original was missing.

New Order

Besides Bernard Sumner, original members Stephen Morris (drums) and Gillian Gilbert (keyboards and guitar) are key elements of the band. The band always were one entity with all members sharing the songwriting credits. Stephen is hidden behind a big drum kit, but stands up to play electronic percussion from time to time. Gillian stands rather glacially behind her keyboards, emerging occasionally to play guitar. Phil Cunningham, second guitar player, has now been with New Order for a while and helps fill out their live sound.

However, someone important is missing on this tour. Founder member and bass player, Peter Hook. Peter and Bernard were always the frontmen of New Order, with Peter often hogging the stage with his low-slung bass. However, there has been a very public and acrimonious split and, in the absence of Hooky, the tour features new bass player, Tom Chapman.

New Order

So are New Order still good without Hooky? Well yes, judging from tonight’s performance they are still a great band and the show goes down a treat. However, Hooky is inevitably missed for his personality and stage presence – and most importantly, his original bass playing. His characteristic trebly melodic bass-style, with the bass acting as lead instrument at times, is largely lacking tonight. Tom Chapman fills the role of new bass player well and perhaps wisely doesn’t try to copy Hooky’s unique style. I am sure all true fans will really hope that they all bury the hatchet and come together again. As we all know bands continually fall out and then make up again (although maybe not The Smiths!).

New Order

A comment I heard from a departing audience member at the end probably best sums up the gig – “The last half hour was really great!” Yes, the last half hour really seemed to hot-up and featured numbers like Blue Monday and Temptation, really beaty numbers, which get the audience singing along and even dancing. The show ends with an upbeat version of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Personally, I would prefer that they stuck to New Order Songs (and there is no shortage of great material to choose from), as I prefer to keep Love Will Tear Us Apart in my memory as a Joy Division song, which only the late Ian Curtis could really sing. But the audience seem to like it!

New Order

A final comment. This is the first time I have been to Birmingham Ballroom and it was a disappointment as a venue and it doesn’t serve the audience well. Maybe they just sold too many tickets, but, beside the poor acoustics, many of us in the audience just couldn’t see much of the band performing on stage. Fortunately for me, as photographer, I was lucky enough to be at the front for the first few numbers. The stage is a little low, but apart from that, people are really packed-in and standing rows deep, even on the balcony. It is not good enough just to be able to see the heads of the band. People pay a lot of cash to see bands like New Order and I think they deserve better.

New Order

Set list: Elegia; Crystal; Regret; Ceremony; Age of Consent; Love Vigilantes; Round and Round; Krafty; Bizarre Love Triangle; True Faith; 586; The Perfect Kiss; Blue Monday; Temptation; (encore) Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Photos and Review by John Bentley

One Response to “New Order + Jake Evans @ The Ballroom, Birmingham, UK – 29th April 2012”

  1. Ken Harrison Says:

    Great stuff John, a great gig…hot, stuffy and crowded and only let down for me by the sound and the loss of Bernard’s vocals at times.

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