Many musical sceptics and “know it all” may have rolled their eyes following the announcement that the once relevant New Order would “headline” the Sydney Vivid Festival, a band that merely produced a few hit singles in the 80’s/90’s and “Blue Monday”, that still ranks as the biggest selling 12” of all time. Tonight, playing without the highly publicised split from bassist, Peter Hook, the 3 founding members Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert with two newer members, tonight, may well have consolidated the musical foundation that today’s disposable week music scene lacks.
Sydney went through one of its widest storms experienced in the last 30 years, with winds ripping the city apart and the rain relentlessly pelting upon us, it was a mere tiny obstacle for the eclectic mix of New Order fans , (many who carried the dishevelled greys and wrinkles since the birth of the bands from the ashes of equally loved Joy Division) as the excitement was buzzing in the auditorium. Speaking with a young 20-year-old while queuing impatiently for a glass of champagne (yet another sign of us slightly older fans), we learnt that she wasn’t so much a fan, but here to offer company with her dad who was a massive fan.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra led the opening independent of the band, playing a perfect rendition of New Orders instrumental “Elegia”, the strings sweeping beautifully helped by the outstanding acoustics of the Opera House. It was one of many times that the ACO would shine as they supported the band through 2 hours of popular hits and some unexpected tracks that the band haven’t played live in years.
The stage lighting and visuals were phenomenal, expected considering Vivid was a festival of light, it went to prove how these elements can take a live experience to a completely new level, coordinated perfectly with complete visual mastery. Beyond their music, New Order have always paid attention to their image and branding having produced some of the most influential art and imagery in modern musical history. Tonight, there was no stone left unturned.
The 2 hour set list played out like “The Best of New Order” with tracks from their latest offering “Music Complete” fitting in neatly and in moments actually proving just as strong as their huge hits. Bernard Sumner made clear he was suffering from a cold, caught from the previous night’s audience. It was completely forgotten and despite never being the best singer, he sung out the entire set with an effortless cool.
“Singularity”, “Restless” and “Tutti Frutti” got huge responses despite being wrapped around some of the biggest songs of their career. The power of New Order was made clear tonight, perhaps a nostalgic trip or perhaps a soundtrack of our lives, when the first beat and synth of “Thieves Like Us” played, it was this moment many of us die-hard fan rose to our feet and rejoiced in a song that crafted many of our youth.
Looking across the audience (and thanks goes to Vivid for offering us those seats), many had now dusted off their uncertainty in dated dance moves with the majority of them on their feet, mouthing the words along with Sumner. “Bizarre Love Triangle” sounded 30 years ago, when it was released. The ACP had peaked, providing the song with richness and fullness, Bernard Sumner’s voice sounding surprisingly on key. From then on, it was moment after moment of immense back catalogue, with the band playing “The Perfect Kiss”, “True Faith”, “Temptation” and of course, “Blue Monday”. The roar of the crowd for both band and the ACO was electrifying and in moments emotionally overwhelming for a many of us.
Returning to the stage while the applause peaked, the image of Ian Curtis projected on to the screens that was emotional and touching and a reminder of where the band had come from and the loss many still feel for the late Ian Curtis. New Order then played through 3 Joy Division songs in memory of Curtis, “Atmosphere” was touching, played against the haunting visuals of Anton Corbin music video. “Decades” sounded just as dark as the original but it was the performance closer “Love Will Tear Us Apart” that brought the audience into singing harmony with what may well be a sinister song, felt like an uplifting and ceremonial evening, celebration more than just a band but a movement, a soundtrack of our lives.