Friday, November 11, 2022

Review: Peter Hook and The Light

Peter Hook and The Light
The Big Top, Limerick, Ireland 
10 November 2022

The revenant is that which returns. 

This thought is foremost after hearing Peter Hook and The Light, who tour the catalogue of Joy Division, keeping alive songs that otherwise can only be appreciated in recorded form. The group animates these tunes through exaggeration, adding metal guitar flourishes, over-pronounced dynamics, and fist-pumping choruses to songs ("Love Will Tear Us Apart", "Transmission") which don't deserve the fate of such normative interpretations. Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man? In part, yes.

I cannot deny Hook the right to parade these songs for the enjoyment of an appreciative audience. On this first stop of a new tour, the crowd was heaving in one giant feel-good Dionysian chorus. This is the sort of event Limerick does so well. By the finale, you could hear the massed voices ringing out across the city centre.

But in their original forms, the songs of Joy Division existed to subvert such emotional transactions. What is Hooky thinking when he sings "But I remember when we were young"? Is he reflecting back, four decades later, on his youth in a band now famous? The supreme irony is that, at the time of authorship, Ian Curtis was only 21. Part of the Curtis genius was the ability inherit a literary mantle, a burden of years. Old before his time, Curtis lived through existential crises both as person and as avatar. Now his absence creates a place that contemporary listeners can inhabit.

It's just as well that Hook, singing words another man wrote, avoids emulation. These are new versions of songs by what is essentially a covers band. He doesn't even play most of the bass riffs he once invented, leaving that to his son Jack Bates. The other players are competent but without flair. Drummer Paul Kehoe in particular cannot come close to Stephen Morris' uncanny execution of rhythms both precise and organic. Instead he hits the skins as hard as possible at all times. 

To perform albums in their entirety is to augur the past, each song bringing forth spirits from the recording studio. Joy Division never played these songs in this order. But now that the sequencing is canonical, it's all The Light can do.

The more energetic tracks were well-executed, but The Light struggled with the slow, moody numbers. By the time the final side of Closer was reached, the renderings were almost painful. A lighter touch, less reliant on the pleasure of the crowd, would have reaped far greater rewards. "The Eternal" and "Decades" are essentially hymns, a chance for introspection, not fist-pumping.

Surprisingly, the opening set of New Order material was the most potent. On previous tours the band has played "Blue Monday", "Regret", and other hits. Expecting little more, I was stunned when "ICB" segued into "Procession" and "Cries and Whispers". "The Perfect Kiss" became one of the highlights of the evening, the arrangement creative and energetic. "Everything's Gone Green" and "Temptation" concluded a magical set.

As much as the group attempts to inhabit and transform the music of Joy Division, they only bring forth the ghost of the past, who cannot be superseded or gainstayed. I wish they had left room for that revenant, rather than attempting to fill every sonic space, attempting to banish what can never be forgotten. Peter Hook and The Light turn songs of timeless beauty and imagination into one-night stands of pleasure. They repeat this quixotic task nightly, in an endless ceremony. We watch from the wings as these scenes are replayed. 

Here are the old men, the weight on their shoulders.


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