Review: Peter Hook & the Light at the Bluebird Theater, 9/19/11

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It was to be expected that Peter Hook & the Light would be playing Unknown Pleasures in its entirety, and that it wouldn't be a half-hearted and insincere attempt at re-creating that music live. What was not expected was the intensity with which the band played. Also surprising were the moments of departure from the original, such as the rendition of "I Remember Nothing," the track that closed the original album on a note of unremitting personal darkness. Hook's vocals evoked the haunting desolation of the original while the band created an alternate sense of brooding atmospheres that used echoing guitar noises, sharp punctuations of sound and short leaks of white noise from the synth to stand in for the clatter of objects in the background. It's the kind of song that shouldn't work live on a collection of songs filled with seething internalized anger. But this lineup managed to make that most uncharacteristic of Unknown Pleasures tracks work.

Overcasters were clearly from the same lineage as Joy Division, especially through the post-punk bands with more creative guitar ideas in the early to late '80s, but with more psychedelic edges. While not short on brooding atmospheres, such as in "The Kiss of Sister Ray," Overcasters once again exorcised melancholy feelings by making its songs burn through the dead weight of a heavy heart rather than dwell on getting stuck in low points. Guitarist John Nichols often had a look of concerned bewilderment, as though he'd just realized his power as a musician for the first time. The set ended with a newer number where the dynamics are centered around the release of tension after a dense and insistent percussion build.

Peter Hook & the Light came on stage after an introduction in the form of "Trans-Europe Express," by Kraftwerk. With little in the way of further introduction, the band went straight into the driving "No Love Lost," and from the beginning, those guys erased any ideas that this show might not be up to snuff. "Leaders of Men," "Glass" and "Digital" followed in quick succession, and Hook, while not possessing a voice with the same character as Ian Curtis, pulled off the nuances of the vocals that did justice to the spirit of the original songs.

Hook and the band played Unknown Pleasures straight through -- starting, of course, with "Disorder," and for a second it seemed so odd, like actually getting to see a latter-day incarnation of Joy Division. This was partly because guitarist Nat Wason really did have his parts down, and he played with a precision and intensity that was at times unnerving -- because even when he did depart from the original songs in any way, he seemed to do so with a perfect understanding of the essence of the song and interpreted what needed to be done, like he was somehow channeling a young Bernard Sumner. The absolute master of his instrument was consistently awe-inspiring, because he absolutely, truly seemed to be infused with the spirit of what Joy Division was all about.

Hook gestured with his right hand throughout the show and sometimes shouted into the mike when especially swept up in the momentum of the performance. "Candidate" was chilling and Wason's guitar tones and gyrations were strikingly perfect in helping to create a sense of impending doom. Most of the bass was provided by Hook's son, but Hook certainly got in on playing the more unconventional bass lines. "Insight" was particularly powerful, and rather than the usual middle section of nearly chaotic noise, everyone played a dissonant line of notes with such fervency that it bordered on the unsettling, much as the original was to listen to. In the middle of "Interzone," Hook gestured for the band to play quietly so that he could do the almost-spoken lines in that section of the song -- and when everyone came back in on cue, the crash of sounds was electrifying. If not for the ability of the band's drummer to play across a broad spectrum of textures and rhythms on a dime and play both soft and incredibly loud, and without Hook's son matching those rhythms on bass, none of the songs would have been half as good. The set properly ended with "I Remember Nothing."

For the first encore, the band surprised probably everyone who didn't know with the non-album track "Ice Age," inspired by the Margaret Drabble novel of the same name. It was one of the band's more punk numbers, and this bunch played that up with vigor. Without slowing the pace, the guys went right into "Warsaw." Wason hit the back of the neck of his guitar to create the moment of roaring shimmer on guitar amid synth swells as everyone went into "Transmission." Before the last song of the encore, Hook said, "This is to send you home with a smile on your face." Naturally, it was "Love Will Tear Us Apart," and Hook left the stage as the rest of the band sped up the song and then slowed it down to end it.

These guys weren't done with us just yet, and they came back with "These Days." This performance of it revealed a sound you could hear in later bands like the Alarm and James.

The whole show closed with a late Joy Division track that most people who never saw the band when it was still around know as a New Order song, "Ceremony." When the song ended and most of the rest of the band left the stage, Hook lingered behind and then took off the

Unknown Pleasures

tour shirt he was wearing (no shirt on underneath) and tossed it into the audience. It was a generous set, and Hook literally gave us the shirt off his back.

Critic's Notebook Bias: I bought a bass guitar in November 1997 because Peter Hook's bass playing in Joy Division struck a deep chord in me, and I've been playing non-school-band music ever since.

Random Detail: Ran into former Caustic Soul bassist Dave Spethman at the show.

By the Way: On October 11, 2003, Overcasters singer Kurt Ottaway performed "Shadowplay" while fronting Bright Channel at Gallery Sovereign in Boulder.

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