Nevermind the Killers,
here’s the real killer: erstwhile Joy Division bassist Hook brings his band to
the States – the 9:30 Club, in Washington, DC, December 8 – to perform the classic debut album in its entirety.
People die; bands break up. But in the end, the
And in the case of Peter Hook’s DC rendering of
Joy Division’s 1979 debut Unknown Pleasures, for the most part anyways,
the songs remain the same.
He’s certainly caught flack for it though.
Casting the first stone was Hook’s old Freebass
bandmate, ex-Stone Roses bass player Gary
“Mani” Mounfield. Claiming that Hook’s wallet, “stuffed with Ian Curtis blood
money,” would soon be “visible from space,” Mani decried that the erstwhile New
Order bassist was simply “dragging his mate’s cadaver ‘round the world.”
Perhaps there is something a tad unseemly about hearing a dead man’s songs sung
by another at 25 bucks a head. But in a world where PiL plays late night talk
shows and Steve Ignorant reforms Crass without Penny Rimbaud, it seems silly to
demand discretion of nostalgia.
Whatever your motives, if you are going to
re-tackle a post-punk warhorse like Unknown Pleasures, your approach
should indeed be beyond reproach. After all, it’s not just critics that wince
at the classic-band-x plays classic-album-y schtick. The fans do
too. Thus, ahead of the reason even, there has to be a regimen for the
reminiscence. And might we have some context to go along with our meal, as
well? To wit, that’s where Peter Hook and his nimble backing band, The Light,
succeeded the most.
After all, Unknown Pleasures is barely 40
After a short film about Factory Records
literally set the stage, Hook and The Light launched not into Unknown
Pleasures‘ lead-off track, “Disorder,” but instead “No Love Lost” — the
second cut from Joy Division’s debut proper, the four-song EP An Ideal for
Living. “Leaders of Men,” the next song on the 1978 seven-inch, followed,
and for a moment, it appeared that Hook, his 21-year-old bassist son Jack,
guitarist Nat Wason, keyboard player Andy Poole and Monaco drummer Paul Kehoe
were going to give us all of that record as well. It wasn’t to be as “Glass”
and “Digital” came next, the latter all the more poignant as it was the last
song Joy Division performed before Ian Curtis finished up Herzog’s Stroszek, put on Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and hanged himself in the kitchen at 23.
And with that, Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures began in earnest. With nary a break nor banter, he played it straight through.
“Disorder,” still one of the most auspicious first tracks on any album, was
impeccable. Furthermore, the opening guitar riff on “Day of the Lords” was so
spot-on, with the lights out, you’d swear it really was Bernard Sumner. And
while Martin Hannett’s coldly electronic toms were conspicuously absent on
“Insight,” Hook’s son kept the low end so solid and refined that it almost
ceased to matter.
But then again, Jack kind of has to. Hook has
Curtis’ hulking baritone down to a Mancunian science, but alas, he cannot pat
his head and rub his belly at the same time. He’s more than keen to get a song
like “She’s Lost Control” going, but when it comes time to roar, he himself
gets lost in a wilderness of frets and thumb rings. It’s a shame, too, as
Hook’s sliding, melodic style was just as integral to Joy Division’s overall
sound as anything Ian Curtis ever bellowed.
Side two, or “Inside” as it’s labeled on the
vinyl, fared equally as well with the ensemble. In fact, the band’s stunning
offering of “Shadowplay” reminded us just how badly The Killers’ version ruined
the closing credits of the 2007 Curtis biopic Control. Anticipating an
encore, Hook hung up his bass and walked off stage before The Light could
actually finish the album closer, “I Remember Nothing.” He returned moments
later, and with a hearty “3-5-0-1-2-5 Go!” christened said encore with a
scorching version of the early Joy Division number “Warsaw.” That energy and verve never faltered
during “Transmission,” and after a brief word from Hook about how great is was
to be back in the States, as if out of obligation, Nat Wason lit into the
opening chords of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Despite it’s ubiquity and covers
good (The Cure), bad (Swans) and just plain fugly (Fall Out Boy), that song is
still quite capable of moving a mid-week 9:30 Club to something that looked a
lot like tears.
Back then, the ten songs on Unknown Pleasures were some of the most desperate and destitute ever put to tape. Touching from a
distance of more than 30 years however, amazingly enough, it’s as if they’ve
somehow transcended the toil that beget them. Yes, of course, there are still
vestiges of isolation and regret, still trace amounts of sorrow and suffering.
And yet, as the crowd made clear, these tunes are anthems now. And in the hands
of Peter Hook at least, where before they only sounded pain, there’s a
new-found optimism and fortitude. Some will call that hope, while others will
And a lucky few may even say its joy.
[Photo Credit: Logan K. Young]