Peter Hook and the Light - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Peter Hook and the Light

Live in Philadelphia (2014)

live show

You have to commend Peter Hook for taking chances. When he first started revisiting his back catalogue, his decision to play Joy Division sets was obvious, being that it is some of the most heralded music of the modern era. The subsequent tour of New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption, and Lies also made sense, the former being almost a Joy Division album and the second being the LP companion to New Order’s mammoth hit, the stand alone single “Blue Monday.” But, a tour of New Order’s third and forth LPs, Brotherhood and Low-Life, both which are almost entirely absent from the modern New Order set aside from “Bizarre Love Triangle”? That’s ballsy. Yet, fortune favors the bold and at the November 6, 2014 Peter Hook and the Light show in Philadelphia, the band both asserted the strength of these rare tunes as well as contorted them into something violent.

In fact, the show began with the group upping the ante from the get-go, first playing an entire Joy Division set despite that this was the Low Life and Brotherhood tour. Mirroring the lesser known status of the songs in the later set, The Light focused on the more obscure Joy Division tracks (admittedly, though, the Joy Division catalogue isn’t exactly vast.) “Hits” like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “She’s Lost Control” were eschewed for songs like “Exercise One” and “Denial.” It was a smart move because the tracks from Substance have gotten a good workout over the past four or so years, so it was exciting to hear the lesser known tunes.

Peter Hook has insisted that Joy Division was a punk band and live, they played in the style. Songs were louder, harder, and more frantic than the studio counterparts. Handling vocals and bass, Hook added the famous, ominous rumble to the tracks, but perhaps unlike the studio versions, which are famously cool, these takes were red hot, charging along at times like a metal band. Likewise, Hook has expressed that he wanted to do justice to deceased Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis. He played it wisely. Although he did borrow that famous, ghost-wail intonation from Curtis, Hook didn’t go for pure copy. Instead, referencing the band’s Warsaw days, Hook had a bit more spit and growl in his voice, keeping the sound low, but threatening. The fact is, like all punk sets, the set could have been a disaster, but instead, it was phenomenal- both respectful of history, bit not dwelling in the past.

After a short break, the band returned to the stage and threw a curveball and laughed at continuity by playing their Brotherhood set before the Low Life set. Brotherhood is an exceptionally interesting point in the New Order catalogue and often one of much contention. Whereas with each release, starting with Movement, the band drifted away from an organic rock sound and more towards an electronic backing. The result is a band that was invigorating and envelope pushing, but perhaps one that became “too pretty” sounding, especially live.

That was not how The Light played their hand. Instead, the band seemed to purposefully reclaim these tracks back to the organic. Even “Bizarre Love Triangle” which sounds almost completely synth on the studio version, was remade into a powerful, driving rocker. There was still some synth backing, to be fair, but where as the 12-inch mix of the song is perfect for the danceclub, the live, bass and guitar charged version was perfect for the rock club. The tune, and its brothers, were combustible, raw, and energizing.

After another short break, the band returned for their Low Life set. Again, the band blasted through the set giving little deference to any particular song- there were no cheesy over the head clap-alongs or moments set for “audience participation.” In a way, this actually gave the songs more respect. By focusing solely on the music, and allowing the songs inherent structure to do the heavy lifting instead of blowing them up into pseudo-stadium cuts, their inherent virtues were that much more apparent. Frankly, these songs rock. On instrumental “Elegia” the buzz of Hook’s bass soared next to the guitar, showing how much contrast is inherently built into these songs. Vocally, Hook mostly retained the style he used with Joy Division set, perhaps lightening up the darkness a little for the New Order’s more abstract sound. On the darker cut “Love Vigilantes,” Hook’s bass took precedence, showing just how unique that huge, menacing tone really is.

The band finally returned to the stage for a fourth time for an encore, playing the singles “Shellshock,” “Confusion,” “True Faith” and “Temptation.” There has been some debate regarding Hook and whether he should be playing these songs at all. It’s barely worth mentioning. No one is sating this is Joy Division. No one is saying this is New Order. This is Peter Hook and his band taking a chance, dusting off wrongly ignored tunes, and kicking ass.