Friday Night: Joy Division's Peter Hook Performs Unknown Pleasures at Mezzanine

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Peter Hook at Mezzanine Friday. Pics by Kirsty.
Peter Hook and The Light perform Unknown Pleasures
December 10, 2010
@ Mezzanine

Better than:
You'd expect a nostalgia-themed show to be.

There aren't many live performers that can make even the most cynical, jaded reporter a bit misty eyed. But then, there's only one Peter Hook.

Friday's show at Mezzanine was really something special. Running through the entirety of the iconic album Unknown Pleasures, the Joy Division founding member and his new band, The Light (featuring baby Hooky on bass, looking like a sweeter, quieter version of his dad) didn't exactly capture the sound of the original, but they did capture the spirit. The sound of Joy Division, of course, is impossible to duplicate without Ian Curtis' deep, sepulchral vocals -- Hook's voice is sweeter, less inherently dark in tone. But in terms of the spirit, they really nailed it.

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Which was a good thing, as the crowd would have eaten them alive if they hadn't. One might expect a reverent atmosphere, given the circumstances, but that would overlook the fact that these were Joy Division fans. The crowd booed the pre-show video after a few minutes, too impatient to get to the actual performance to handle waiting for the overdramatic build-up (admittedly, the video's presenter was also rather annoying).

No primer was necessary. Unknown Pleasures stands on its own as a testament to just how great Joy Division was, and why the Manchester post-punk band was so hugely influential.

The band pretty much did the material justice. Although none of the other members could compete with Hook, who was always a remarkable musician, the performance was solid. Maybe the intro video was intended to remind people that Hook can't sing and play at once too well, so that we'd forgive him for letting his bass take a backseat while he handled the vocal duties. He had to do it, though -- who else would Joy Division fans tolerate singing Curtis' lyrics? Although he's never had the extraordinarily pretty voice that former bandmate (and New Order singer) Bernard Sumner is blessed with, Hook isn't a bad vocalist. And anyway, prettiness would create entirely the wrong mood for songs like "She's Lost Control." His devotion to getting the words right was rather touching: Hook can't read music, so we assume those were lyrical reminders on the music stand and notepad in front of him.

In fact, Hook's devotion to keeping the memory of his former band alive was touching in general. You could tell that he wasn't just phoning in old Joy Division tunes for a paycheck-- the attention to detail and seriousness with which he attacked the material was too intense for that.

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The crowd loved him for that energy. But it's an odd thing, watching one notoriously badass guy mellow into old age. The 50-something Hooky was funnier than he used to be, though no less intense. He's never going to be the chirpiest guy in the world, but the crowd wouldn't want him to be, and he did manage to crack a few smiles.

About Hooky Junior: it was lovely to watch the interaction between father and son, although you have to feel sorry for the kid with an act like that to follow. He held his own in a group of much older musicians. But when it comes to playing bass on Joy Division songs, no one can compete with Hook.

The moments where he stepped away from his vocal duties and really let loose on that bass were highlights of the show. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Hooky's sound so special, but special it is. No one plays melody on a bass quite like he does, and no one has quite the same rich, vibrant tone. He may be getting a bit grizzled, but damn, he can play.

As great as the run through Unknown Pleasures was, though, what really set off the aforementioned misty eyes was the encore. After a song dedicated to an old friend who'd recently passed away, next up was "Transmission." Cue crowd going apeshit. This is a great song, one that pretty much defined post-punk, and it sounded fantastic live. And then there was "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which had even the most hardened members of the audience jumping around like teenagers. It was kind of funny, seeing such dark, fundamentally gloomy songs making so many people so incredibly happy, but you can't help but be happy when you're seeing one of your favorite songs live, played by one of the people who wrote it. How many people in the audience, especially the ones too young to have seen Joy Division back in the day, ever expected to have that experience?

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They closed out the set with "Ceremony," a clever choice in that it showed the common thread that ran from Joy Division into New Order. It was a fitting end to a great show -- an almost perfect pop song, played by a grizzled old punk with a smile on his face. What more can you ask for on a Friday night?

Critic's Notebook
Personal bias: My mother raised me on Joy Division and New Order. I knew all the lyrics to "Love Will Tear Us Apart" when I was eight years old.
The crowd: Mostly middle-aged, with some younger fans thrown in, leaning a bit punk and a bit goth.
Overheard in the crowd: "You can't use flash", to yours truly, who was fiddling with an expensive camera and wearing a photo pass. Seriously, what is it about seeing a woman holding a camera that makes some men so incredibly obnoxious?
Random notebook dump: Apparently "Transmission" is everyone's favorite angry Joy Division song, and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" the one that makes them so happy they can't stop grinning. Joy Division fans are weird people (myself included, of course).
Did you know?: This isn't going to be the last Joy Division-themed live project for Hook -- expect a run through another one of the band's albums soon.

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