New Order triumph in Manchester, and Susanne Sundfør takes to the waves.
New Order Old Granada Studios, Manchester
You can see the chimney pots of the old Coronation Street set as you walk into tonight’s venue. Before it closed as a television facility, the 1,200-capacity Old Granada Studios also had a proud tradition of music television production. The Beatles’ TV debut, pop show Lift Off With Ayshea and Tony Wilson’s short-lived programme So It Goes were all filmed here, the latter featuring the Sex Pistols’ first national TV exposure, as well as living room-convulsing performances from Iggy Pop, Buzzcocks and Magazine. Joy Division didn’t play on So It Goes, though their September 1978 Granada Reports appearance is sometimes credited as such. So as if to right a psychic wrong, the full title of tonight’s event is ∑(No, 12k, Lg, 17Mif) New Order + Liam Gillick: So it goes… Designed to kick off this year’s Manchester International Festival, it’s a collaboration between the band, installation artist Liam Gillick and a 12-piece “synthesizer ensemble” from the Royal Northern College of Music with their conductor Joe Duddell, string arranger on New Order’s 2015 comeback Music Complete. For a group who were once notorious for their technology breaking down on-stage, there are few hiccups tonight. Over two storeys at the rear of the stage, Gillick has prepared 12 cuboid units for the ensemble members, each with a venetian blind-style arrangement of moving slats. Things commence in grave and majestic fashion with semi-regular set opener Elegia, the Morricone-esque dueller’s instrumental from 1985’s Low-Life, reproduced on synths alone. What happens next conforms to no expectations. The group announced they would be re-arranging songs from the back catalogue, but even so, is Who’s Joe? from 2005’s Waiting For The Sirens’ Call a deep cut too far? That said, the extra layers of technology bring out the drama of this morose “all going wrong” rock song. By the time they play Technique’s sombre song of Balearic joy, Dream Attack, unaired since 1993, it’s clear the promise to re-tool the set was a genuine one. Temporarily switching off the keyboard reinforcements, what comes next is gobsmacking. “This is one we haven’t played for a very, very, very long time so forgive us if we get it slightly wrong,” says Bernard Sumner, adding after a short pause, “or fail to start it.” It is Joy Division’s Disorder, not played live since 1980 and presented with all its original sense of urgent alienation. It’s clear we’ve shifted into a mirror realm, where lost songs have suddenly been vigorously reanimated (Haçienda veterans shouting for Blue Monday and trying to get a football chant going end up sounding confused). Dusted off from 1984, a weirdly ominous, rolling Ultraviolence is supercharged with electricity, red flashing lights and Stephen Morris’s vintage syndrums. Getting its live debut, Get Ready-era B-side Behind Closed Doors is a slow orchhouse ballad-lament with Sumner walking the stage like a crooner as the keyboardists pick at their virtual violins. Unperformed since 1989, Brotherhood’s piteous All Day Long glistens and cascades as shutters open and close and blue lights flash in time with the music. Having moved into the disco arena, the body blows and double takes start coming thick and fast. Is that Shellshock getting its first airing since 1987, in some fantasy 12-inch remix with its all sonic subtleties replicated live? How gothic-disco does Subculture, unheard since 1989, sound, boasting authentic rhythmic stuttering, screaming guitars and woops from the dancing Sumner? At least an orch-discotechno-rock re-version of Bizarre Love Triangle and a sweaty, Moroder’d up take on Music Complete’s Plastic reminds you this is not some elaborate dream, but if the keyboards were going to pack up, now would be the time. First encore Your Silent Face sustains the electroorchestral euphoria, but in closing, Joy Division’s Decades brings strict tempo ofa different kind, with eerie chill and hammering intensity. It’s a bizarre but striking end to a set like no other, which delivered fully on the promise to go back in order to go forward. There’s more thought-provoking retrospective action over at the Manchester Art Gallery. Running until September 3, True Faith is a fascinating New Order/Joy Division exhibition co-curated by Jon Savage, Matthew Higgs and Johan Kugelberg. It collects rare artefacts, design, film and artworks, including Henri Fantin-Latour’s 1890 painting A Basket Of Roses, as used on the sleeve of Power, Corruption & Lies. And over the exit there’s a portrait of the group’s old label boss Tony Wilson, smiling.
The deeper you get: New Order’s Granada retrovision (main pic, from left) Stephen Morris, RNCM synthesizer orchestrator and Bernard Sumner open the Manchester International Festival; (bottom, from left) Bernard; that oblique title; Liam Gillick’s dynamic installation, with synths behind shutters.
“FORGIVE US IF WE GET IT WRONG… OR FAIL TO START IT.”