If you've been a New Order fan for long enough, you've heard the song hundreds of times or more. Just the same, that repetition did nothing to dull the haunting yet soothing majesty of "Your Silent Face" when New Order played it pretty much in the middle of the show. Before starting up the song, Bernard Sumner took out a melodica and asked if anyone knew what it was called. When he didn't get the answer he was looking for, he said, "It's probably better that way." Sumner seemed to be in an especially good, grateful mood.
As the Kraftwerk-ian pulses of synth filled the air, a spotlight shone on Gillian Gilbert and her instrument before it switched to Sumner in the appropriate moment. It gave an inexplicable sense of intimacy in a place that is anything but, and that power to make the room seem larger while the music seemed cozier was one of the things that made this show seem almost like it couldn't be happening.
The set began when some triumphant, classical-inspired music came through the PA that the band started using to usher in its shows even in the '80s. When the five members of the band took up their places, Sumner chuckled a little, as though he was having a private laugh ahead of time at the absurdity of addressing a room full of hundreds of people with the words he was about to speak. He said, "Obviously, we're New Order. I can only apologize it's been a long time since we've been in Denver." Then he and the band went into the darkly gorgeous instrumental "Elegia."
The pop songs proper began with a strong performance of "Crystal." Sumner even leapt to accent a note somewhere at the peak of the song and everyone seemed to be playing as though rediscovering the joy of playing this material again. Between each song, Sumner thanked the audience, and it never felt like a perfunctory gesture, more like he was acknowledging the love the band was receiving from the people who showed up.
The light show for this performance made everything seem larger than life if you could see it from the back of the room. It was like an optical illusion when the show ended that the spheres on either side of the venue seemed much closer and the room seemed to shrink without the power of New Order's music cancelling out the normal laws of time and space while the show was going on.
But really, it was the power of those songs to affect and captivate the imagination. With streams, beams of colored light, in columns, in whorls, in bursts, in vortices, the lights seemed to come at any angle, triggered to give a visual sense of constant movement when the moment in the song called for it. Likewise, they were still and incandescing when a quiet or languid passage happened in a song and the momentum of the melody halted, as though giving a moment for us to reflect.
Before "Ceremony," Sumner told us it was going to be a Joy Division song that they had reworked as a New Order song. At the end of an admittedly energetic showing, Sumner said, half winded, half joyful, "It's quite long, that one." The version of "Isolation" that came later, Sumner told us was "an old song in a modern setting." He wasn't kidding. It sounded a bit like Kraftwerk trying its hand at an industrial song with post-punk rhythm underpinnings -- like a band remixing its own song live and finding an interesting reinterpretation.
The interweaving lighting for "Here to Stay" was visually arresting when the blossoms of light beams whorled in place and then moved and swept across the field of view, occasionally framing the band and often obscuring it for a few seconds. At the end of "Your Silent Face," Sumner said, "A good song and one of my favorites."
During "586," an interesting choice to bring into the set by anyone's estimation, the numbers appeared on the screen. Witnessing this song in person made you appreciate how modern it sounds, like New Order was writing a noisy, experimental song that would be entire relevant three decades later. "True Faith" got an even more house production treatment than its original form, and on the screen, there were visuals from the original promotional video as well as newer footage to visually reflect the new treatment of the song.
"Blue Monday" seemed to be performed at a slightly different speed from the studio version -- risky for some fans but ultimately something that keeps a band from boring itself and of interest to anyone that wants to be surprised by that band. The backing visuals included what looked like a camera shot on a hand brushing wheat sheaves in a field while walking, a purple sky in the background. It was like a secret window to someone walking the Elysian Fields. Foreshadowing of showing imagery of Ian Curtis later? Perhaps and more subtle and poetic than morbid.
Before the last song of the set, Sumner told us he was sorry if he wasn't his usual self because, "I hurt myself climbing on a horse. I'm sure you understand." If he was indeed injured, it did nothing to dampen his exuberance during the whole show, and the version of "Temptation" took what could be a wistful song and turned it into one that didn't dishonor that aspect of the original but which infused it with a spirited presentation.
Even when the lights changed from green to blue to grey in time with the chorus of the song, it didn't come off as cheesy so much as a sentimental gesture shared between friends. When the song came to a close, Sumner said, "You've been a fantastic audience! We'll come back!"
New Order didn't make us wait too long before coming back for a slightly extended encore. Sumner said, "Cheers. What else can we say? We're grateful." Then unfamiliar sounds filled the room, and it evolved into "Atmosphere." The video backdrop incorporated the original music video done by Anton Corbijn. You couldn't help but be struck by how Stephen Morris is a master of striking the perfect balance of keeping a beat, creating texture and establishing a mood with his drumming and had done so the entire show.
After the drifting introspection of "Atmosphere," the band kicked into a rousing version of "Transmission." While the song was going, the lights on stage seemed to crowd close to the band and flicker in a pattern that made it look like frames from a film watched in fast forward -- an interesting effect that you pretty much never see.
Of course the whole show closed with a song plenty of people wanted to hear, and the band was gracious enough to provide in good spirits -- "Love Will Tear Us Apart." It seemed more upbeat and poppy in every way and struck an odd note because of that, all reinforced by the appearance of the words "Forever Joy Division" on the screen as well as the cover of the original single afterward. But it also seemed more like an homage to an old friend.
Keep reading for more on the opening acts and for Critic's Notebook and Setlist.
Opening the show and between sets, boyhollow played an excellent selection of songs and remixes that he clearly chose for the occasion. The Sebastien Tellier cover of "Blue Monday" was a noteworthy inclusion, as well as what sounded like a purely instrumental remix of My Bloody Valentine's "To Here Knows When." Overall an excellent balance of originals and reworkings stitched together in a way that set the mood for the night.
Denver's Flashlights was generously allotted enough time to play ten songs during its set. Ethan Converse and Alex Anderson were a little reserved at the beginning of the set, and who wouldn't be, playing to even the sizeable part of the audience that showed up on time when you're used to playing much smaller rooms. But the guys warmed up quickly and seemed to enjoy the positive feedback this crowd, most of whom probably didn't know a thing about Flashlights.
As always, "Glowing Eyes" was the immersive, late night, atmospheric pop song it always was and with this sound system, Flashlights sounded like they could have been a band touring with New Order in the 80s, except that Converse and Anderson have clearly benefited from more than two decades of the development of electronic music. And yet there is a classic sound to the band and there always has been.
The new song, "Cigars," which is being released in a couple of weeks, found Flashlights in a more upbeat mood. Not that its songs are downers. The band's downtempo vibe is one of its great strengths. But this song felt like the guys had figured out another flavor of its songwriting. Drawing much from its So Close to Midnight EP for this set, Flashlights sure seemed to gain some new fans from its strong performance.
Personal Bias: The first song I taught myself on bass fifteen years ago was "Blue Monday" by New Order. Getting to see the band for the first time after being into its music since the '80s is kind of a dream come true.
Random Detail: There was a great T-shirt with the cover of Movement on the front. Yet New Order played no songs from the album during its set. Perhaps this is kind of a bit of wry humor.
By the Way: A lot has been made of Peter Hook not being on this tour. And it is a big deal despite the fact that New Order performed a show worthy of any of its best in the past. Perhaps the band can patch things up with Hook before it makes good on Sumner's saying New Order would be back.
New Order 1STBANK Center - 10/10/12 Broomfield, CO
Elegia Crystal Regret Ceremony Age of Consent Isolation Here to Stay Your Silent Face Bizarre Love Triangle 586 True Faith The Perfect Kiss Blue Monday Temptation
Atmosphere Transmission Love Will Tear Us Apart
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