I am not one to diss cover bands and tribute acts. In fact, I love them. For real.
It’s mostly because I like live music, and I like hearing music I like played live. Am I ever going to see Elvis play live? No. He’s dead. Allegedly. But am I going to see an Elvis or Beatles or Who tribute act? Yes, yes, and yes. Same goes for cover bands. It’s your friend’s wedding. Are people expected to sit around and listen to a band with original material and politely clap for this concert they neither wanted nor agreed to? No. Gimme a top 40 act and move out of the way so that we can drink and dance and sing loudly to power ballads. That is the purpose of weddings and anything less is cramping my style.
So that’s why I was excited to see Peter Hook and the Light. Peter Hook was the bassist for Joy Division and then their reemergence as New Order. A few year ago, Hook formed Peter Hook and the Light, which basically tours and plays Joy Division and New Order songs exclusively.
This is brilliant idea.
He usually does either the two Joy Division albums — Closer and Unknown Pleasures — or the first two New Order albums — Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies — depending on what tour he’s on. When he came through Shanghai he happened to be on the Joy Division stint.
Probably the other remaining members of New Order have some problems with this set up, but being as how they reformed in 2011 and Peter Hook was not part of that I guess it’s every man for himself. Seems they all have equal songwriting credits so they can all play whatever they damn well like.
Technically, I’m not sure if Peter Hook and the Light count as a tribute act or not, being as how Peter Hook was an original member and they’re playing songs he has songwriting credit for. But there’s also another band out there (New Order) who are playing the same songs they have the same songwriting credit for. So, which band is the real band and which band is the tribute? Is it based on how many original members they have? How often they perform? How closely they stick to the original material? Are they both tribute bands? Are they both the original bands? Questions, people. I’ve got them.
Here’s how the show went: The stage had two large banners on it, one the album cover from Closer, and the other the cover from Unknown Pleasures. Peter Hook and the Light played Closer first, and as far as I can tell, all of the songs. I’m not actually the biggest Joy Division fan, so I had to ask other people what was going on. Honestly, the only two I recognized were “Isolation” and “Twenty Four Hours”. They actually projected the album cover behind the band while they were playing, and if you’re familiar with Closer, it’s a really white album, and was kind of distracting. It went out about the second song — I’m not sure if it was on purpose or not — but it was much better when it was off.
Then the band left the stage, and most people in the audience were like, “WTF?” because they’d only been playing 45 minutes and these tickets were really expensive. But those more in the know were like, “Just wait,” and indeed, the band came out, backdrop changed to the other album cover, and they did an entire second set consisting of Unknown Pleasures (which is my limited opinion is a better album, but whatever).
As far as the performance goes, Peter Hook doesn’t sing like Ian Curtis, obviously. It was missing that. He doesn’t sing like Bernard Sumner (lead vocalist of New Order) either. I can’t really fault him for not being either one of those guys, but he’s not a particularly strong singer. To be honest, Hook didn’t really play the bass a lot either. I thought it was a bit funny when they first came out and Peter Hook had a bass, but there was also another bassist as well (which Google tells me is actually Hook’s son, so that’s cool). I thought, “Wow, this is gonna be a really bass-y show”, but Hook spent most of his efforts on singing, though he did always have his bass on him and played on a few songs. There wasn’t much chatter from the band, and I love in between song chatter, especially from old bands that I know have got stories. Amazing, awesome stories that they aren’t telling us.
But you know, it was chance to hear Joy Division songs played live, and that was pretty cool. If you’re a music fan, you’re really not going to be able to hear Joy Division played any other way. And their big hits, like “Isolation,” “Disorder,” “She’s Lost Control” — these are songs that still sound interesting and fresh and remind listeners just how great Joy Division was, and makes you wonder what might have been if not for Curtis’ suicide.
After the second set, they left the stage again, then came back out for an encore, so those of us worried we wouldn’t be getting our money’s worth were slapped in the face with that. To be honest, there were parts of the overall performance that dragged, but the encore was pretty great. They did “Transmission”, the New Order song “Ceremony”, and finished with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. These three songs together got everyone worked up and reminded me how a lot of young Chinese people (men and women) like to dance by hopping. Not…jumping, exactly; not dancing or swaying or moving in some other way, but…hopping. Just, hopping. Maybe people all over the world are doing this now, but people in China sure love it.
There was also a really interesting mix of people at Mao that night. I was thinking that I might be the youngest person in the audience (as opposed to a lot of shows in Shanghai I go to where I most definitely am NOT — being surrounded by 19 year old interns on their first time time abroad can do that). Older people, of course, people in the middle (like me!), and a lot of high school/college-aged Chinese people. Not sure if they were Joy Division fans or just excited for another foreign act. They were certainly snapping up the Unknown Pleasure t-shirts pre-show, though.
Overall, I probably would have been more into the entire show if I knew Joy Division’s detailed discography better, or if they had just played the best songs from the two albums and shaved about 30 minutes off of the show. All told, it lasted about 2 hours with both sets plus the encore. True Joy Division fans were probably psyched to hear each song recreated and performed; the rest of us were checking our phones in between.
But all was forgiven when Peter Hook pulled out this: