Peter Hook Live @ The Music Box, Hollywood, CA,
December 11, 2010
By Grant Cogswell
Let me say at the outset there is no art I like better than that of Joy Division: the third eye Vermeer equips you with is gone once you leave the museum; there is scarcely an audible lyric in the two albums of My Bloody Valentine’s ecstatic bliss; Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano tells you nothing about your own life unless you are in the depths of alcoholism; Tarkovski’s films take most of an afternoon to achieve their effect and Keats’ life and letters are in the realm of myth, not art. Joy Division’s thirty songs balance perfectly between rock’s high-art aspirations and its dirty roots/boots and it takes only the duration of any but a few of them to find the space in which they exist, entirely unique and unmatched in rock before or since. That excellence cannot be attributed to either of the albums alone (most of their finest songs appeared only as singles – “Transmission,” “Dead Souls,” “Atmosphere” – and neither are they ‘hits’ with the exception of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”) nor the shows :their best live recording, Preston, is of a set that was a technical disaster and the video of the band live is so crude as to lack its own aesthetic and thus let their brilliance emerge lo-fi and pure.
Joy Division is a myth as well, refined to Keatsian hope and tragedy recently on the silver screen in Michael Winterbottom’s 24-Hour Party People and Anton Corbijn’s Control, both of which the audience at Hollywood’s Music Box had to be informed of in a twenty-minute segment from a TV documentary screened before Hook’s concert which also told the crowd not a thing they did not already know about the original band, Ian Curtis’ death, New Order, Factory Records and the Happy Mondays. An odd intro, since Hook’s JD bandmates in New Order (a bunch of straight guys who effectively invented gay dance music) aren’t speaking to him, and this is a one-original-member lineup. Which might be fine, as Hook’s distinctive, melodic bass lines were perhaps as strongly a part of JD’s identity as Curtis’ vocals. But the force of Joy Division was larger than the players. Hook has admitted they “wanted to sound like the Sex Pistols or The Damned” and it was producer Martin Hannett that gave them their eerie, open sound (and told Morris to double up on the drumbeats); the artful presentation of everything the band produced was an effect achieved by Factory svengali Tony Wilson and
peerless graphic designer Peter Saville. Except for the last, those men are dead.
This was going to be a bit of a high-wire act, but still might have salvaged some respect.
It must be said Hook’s exuberance for this music pushes him into the territory of 1 AM karaoke singing. He’s not exactly a bad singer, but his style is much more Rob Halford than Ian Curtis, and Joy Division to most fans basically is Curtis. The crowd – dapper old LA punks with a smattering of costume goth – made little eye contact during the film and cheered Hook on like this wasn’t embarrassing. We never have to see our dead hero in paunchy, stubbly middle age with all its dirty humanity. Hook can’t play bass and sing simultaneously, so what he is most valued for was largely denied us, and he sang with a sheaf of lyrics before him on a waist-high music stand. Come on.
As one who has repeatedly whored out the fading value of my own (semi-)famous name to diminishing returns, I’m not unsympathetic to Hook’s apparent mission here. It doesn’t seem to be about the money, as a $28 ticket is cheap in Los Angeles. He wants to play these songs in front of an audience, fronting his son’s band. In interviews Hook says he contributed the idea for a celebration of Curtis’ life planned for his hometown of Macclesfield, which was canceled, and took the show on the road, at last, to America. (Curtis killed himself on the eve of JD’s
first American tour.)
I don’t enjoy ripping this apart, so I will only say the encore displayed what this show might have been: a bouncing Perry Farrell took over vocals for “Transmission,” leaving Hook to stay on bass all through the song. Farrell is no Curtis either, but for the first time, the atmosphere in the room soared. This whole enterprise might have been entirely redeemed if vocal duty was left to Sam Riley, the actor who achieved the impossible as Curtis in Corbijn’s biopic. Hook himself displayed remarkable control on the finale, “Ceremony” (a song Curtis wrote but didn’t survive to properly record), which he sang for almost thirty years in New Order, and on the final encore the show found its groove. If it had all been like this – a little more reverent, and practiced – it might have been a success. One of the essential elements of Joy Division was that after the earliest recordings, nothing got out that was not perfect. As much as the songs themselves, this is the band’s model legacy.
1. No Love Lost
2. Leaders of Men
6. Day of the Lords
9. New Dawn Fades
10. She’s Lost Control
14. I Remember Nothing
16. Love Will Tear Us Apart
Grant Cogswell has written extensively for The Stranger . His life as a Seattle politico is documented in the forthcoming feature Grassroots, directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal. He is currently establishing the only English language used bookstore in Mexico City (www.underthevolcanobooks.com.)