Monday, May 29, 2017

A Means To An End: A Look At A Bunch Of Live Albums From Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order)

Oddly, one of the many things I regret about my nearly 3 years in Hong Kong was that I missed a Peter Hook concert in 2014. That I had a +1 on the 'list for it only makes it seem worse that I didn't go. However, as I recall, the usually crappy Hong Kong weather was a bit worse that night and the prospect of possibly riding back to Lamma Island in a near-typhoon on a rickety ferry was enough to get my wife and I home early that night. There's a pic down there of the concert poster for Hook's concert that I saw in a Hong Kong Island MTR station shortly before the night of the event to rub salt in the wound for me here.

I suppose that now I'm lucky 'cause I can, like so many fans, hear the sort of concert I missed as the folks at Westworld Recordings have released a string of live albums from the bassist of Joy Division and New Order. The four albums, covering the tours centered around the material on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Closer and that of New Order's Movement and Power, Corruption, And Lies, present an impressive record of an (older) artist rediscovering the vibrancy of his youth and paying some kind of psychic debt to the tunes that have meant so much to him, his fans, and even the very culture of the post-punk era.

But Hooky is not alone here. He's joined in this band by his son Jack Bates, on bass, along with Monaco members David Potts on guitar, Andy Poole on keyboards, and Paul Kehoe on drums. The band is called The Light, as in Peter Hook and The Light, and they are not Joy Division. Nor are they New Order, for that matter. But, still, they offer up fairly robust versions of these post-punk classics.

And what must immediately be addressed before I get into any kind of album-by-album review of these records is the idea that these didn't really need to exist. Of course, as records of the Peter Hook tours that these came from, I suppose that it is a good thing as attendees of those shows could, indeed, want some kind of souvenir document of the concerts. But, as interpretations of the material, the albums are, of course, not entirely necessary. The records then work best for fans who know and love the Joy Division and New Order releases and who remain open-minded enough to sit through fairly faithful runs at them. I mean, look, Hook isn't going to upset the lucrative apple-cart, is he? And, yeah, that's why these are rather straight sets.

Still, I suppose it's worth looking at each individual release with a slightly less cynical POV, right?

On the Closer - Live In Manchester, Hook is in his element as he plays to a receptive hometown crowd in 2011. Standouts here include a glistening "Isolation" and a churning "A Means To An End", among others from that seminal 1980 album. If the audience is a bit too loud in spots, and Hook a bit too enthusiastic for material such as this, those are minor annoyances given the excellence of the non-album cuts here, including a riveting "Transmission" and the punk-y one-two punch of "Warsaw" and "Failures" from early in the Joy Division song-book.

The performance on Unknown Pleasures - Live in Leeds shows a sort of progression in approach, Hooky letting loose more often in this 2012 set as the material here is rougher. A fairly strong stab at "Digital" is a draw here, as is a superb exploration of "Shadowplay", Hook's bass riffing off the very same bass hooks he composed some decades earlier. Elsewhere, the non-album tracks are a mixed bag of singles and rarities with highlights being a tough-as-nails run at "Something Must Break" and a loose rendition of "Ceremony", here expanded a bit into something closer to the sound of Nineties-era New Order (even with Hook's gruff vocals).

After tackling most of the Joy Division catalog, Peter Hook naturally turned to the New Order stuff. A 2013-era recording, Power, Corruption, And Lies - Live In Dublin remains one of the better albums in this series of releases. With Hook sounding supremely at ease running through buoyant classics like "The Village", a listener can certainly understand the appeal of revisiting this material for the bassist. The dance-y stuff on the original album keeps Hook on his toes here with spry numbers like "Age Of Consent" sounding positively radiant and fresh. The release is expanded with a whole bunch of non-album cuts from both the era and earlier ("Everything's Gone Green"). The highlights of this one are, of course, numbers like "True Faith" which, in this performance, deftly connects the New Order numbers from 1983 with those of the band circa 1987, the elements of the band's sound having found their full fruition in that 1987 single from Substance.

A 2013 set, Movement - Live In Dublin sees Peter Hook revisit the first New Order LP along with a whole slew of Joy Division and New Order numbers. If album tracks like "Dreams Never End" and "The Him" are easy ones for the bassist to master (again) in this live setting, it's the other, non-Movement tracks here that are standouts for a listener: a hard "Atrocity Exhibition" and a sleek "She's Lost Control", all shiny surfaces and popping bass-lines.

One couldn't say with a straight face that these live albums on Westworld Recordings were essential, or that they even needed to exist. But as records of one of the process of one of the composers and band-members claiming parts of his back-catalog as his own, they are necessary documents. Peter Hook sounds at ease throughout lots of this and if the Joy Division renditions sometimes lack the necessary gravitas, the material remains durable and open to these looser interpretations in spots. All that being said, the New Order cuts here are more fun as they allow more room for Hook to expand and elaborate on the original numbers.

For fans of New Order and Joy Division, these albums are certainly ones that should be sought out. If anything, the renditions here remind a listener of just how fantastic the original compositions were and how timeless they remain.

Follow Peter Hook via the official website, or the official Facebook page. The live albums are out now via Westworld Recordings.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]