Considering New Order rarely tours, getting to see the group in any incarnation is sure to incite an instant sell out. That’s exactly what happened when the English electro outfit announced Sunday’s Aragon Ballroom show (its first Chicago appearance since 2005), but unlike that outing, this tour didn’t support a new project, nor was the line-up quite the same.
Sure, front man/guitarist Bernard Sumner was back, as was original drummer Stephen Morris and long-time member Phil Cunningham (guitars, electronic drums, synthesizers), though the band’s trusty bassist Peter Hook has since parted New Order’s company. In his place stood unknown newcomer Tom Chapman, though that blow was softened by the return of fellow co-founder Gillian Gilbert on synthesizers and guitars (who left the road in 1998 to raise the family she started with hubby Morris).
Of course, this cast is no stranger to changes dating back to the days of Joy Division, the legendary post-punk band that unexpectedly evolved into New Order after the suicide of leader Ian Curtis at a mere 23. Naturally, several Joy Division remembrances popped up within the show, though the group’s first point of business was turning the packed club into a synth/pop party. Following the icy instrumental “Elegia,” Sumner and company grooved to the meaty beats of “Crystal,” the charging “Regret” and the ever-so-sweet “Love Vigilantes,” flawlessly interweaving various eras without ever sounding dated.
In fact, new wave classics like “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Blue Monday” clearly served as blueprints for Moby, The Killers, and pretty much anyone else with an electronic emphasis, not to mention whipping the audience into mass hysteria. The same could be said on record for “True Faith,” but this time on stage it lacked the usual punch as Chapman respectably imitated, but couldn’t quite duplicate Hook’s iconic bass lines with as much charisma.
As great as the group sounded throughout the 18 tunes presented, members seemed so focused on nailing every intricate instrumental flourish that they rarely demonstrated an outgoing stage presence. Instead, New Order let the light show do most of the entertaining (outside of the music itself) with atmosphere-enhancing strobes and swirls cranking on overdrive during the pulsating “The Perfect Kiss” and the frenetic finale “Temptation.”
The band’s encore consisted of three Joy Division tunes, which concurrently stood as tributes for the fallen front man and essential pillars of New Order’s family tree. After settling slowly into the subdued “Heart And Soul,” “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” pleaded with brooding emotion and angular arrangements that were about twenty years ahead of their time. (Just ask Interpol, Bloc Party or She Wants Revenge). Even with those extraordinary trips down memory lane, the true test will come if the current line-up reconvenes in the studio. Based on both bands’ seminal track records so far, its certainly possible those innovations could keep on coming.
— Andy Argyrakis