Rumor has it that when Joy Division heard the final mixes for both their studio albums, they felt that the distanced, somber sound of the studio recordings didn't reflect their more energetic live show. Whether or not this is true is up for debate, but when Peter Hook, Joy Division's bassist, played the group's second and final LP, Closer, in its entirety to the packed Mezzanine in San Francisco on September 17, 2011, he presented a work that was as energetic as it was morose.
Hook and his band the Light took the stage in a phalanx position, with Hook, wielding his iconic bass, standing at the very edge of center stage, his guitar player to his right and a second bassist to his left, with his drummer and keyboards completing a pentagonal position behind. Hook's very stature made it clear that the band was as interested as paying respect to the iconic album as they were showing that the piece is more dynamic than static.
When originally recorded, Closer was Joy Divison's mature statement: a thick, rumbling work that dealt with depression and loneliness from a removed perspective, all over an almost mechanical, spacey, but broad musical tapestry. Interestingly, lead singer Ian Curtis hung himself just before the album's release, making it a poignant and alarming epitaph.
Ian Curtis was a wisp of a man, a tall, lanky, slender person with twig-ish limbs, who would often stand somewhat back on the stage, so much so that sometimes the drums would bleed into his mic. In contrast, Hook is much more of a massive creature. His broad shoulders support thick arms, which in turn results in the hands of a bluesman: plate-like palms and nickel-roll fingers. Instead of retreating from the audience, Hook glowered overtime, at times playing his bass over the heads of those in attendance.
As the band cut through Closer, they increased the speed of the songs, but kept the mechanical plod of the originals, transforming them from dry endeavors to doomsday marches. Where they used to be tunes that drifted along before collapse, they became more directed, speeding towards an immediate crash. Hook's voice is somewhat remarkably similar to Curtis' own baritone, back-of-throat wail. But where Curtis' voice seemed to sink into despair at the end of Joy Division's song, Hook erupted into a saliva-filled scream, stretching back to the group's punk origins. Interestingly, on most nights, the Mezzanine is a dance club, and is therefore filled with metal decorations and furnishings, so that the bass from the latest club jam reverberates through the floor. The venue was a wise choice for Hook, because while he did delegate some bass duties to the Light's second bassist, when Hook snapped the strings of his low-strung instrument, the sound literally passed through audience member to audience member.
After the band finished the album proper, they returned to the stage and immediately kicked into a selection of Joy Division favorites, including "Transmission", "She's Lost Control" and "Digital". But, where the songs from Closer retained their slow-burning gravitas, the encore set fired up the energy and converted the songs into almost punk slammers akin to the group's earliest Warsaw recording. For the group's final song, they sped through a nearly double-time "Love Will Tear Us Apart" that converted the Mezzanine from a temple of despondency back to its normal dance club persona. Never has depression been so invigorating.
- I was surprised to find that the "punx" faction was basically non-existent. Most people were dressed in downtowned blacks and grays, swathed in peacoats and porkpie hats. Some of the ladies were wearing the dance-club-little-black-dress. In fact, I only saw one up-tha-punx fellow there. Because I had on my favorite GWAR t-shirt, I think I won second-most-punx by default.
- In the smoking section, three Brazilian dudes were smoking the weirdest cigarettes I have ever seen: The cigs were skinny, rolled in cigar-like brown paper, but twisted around like curly fries. (No, I know what a joint looks like, and they weren't joints.)
- If you are ever at Mezzanine and get Mitra from your bartender, tip her well cause she makes one MEAN ginger ale with a straight-up fierce twist of lime.