New Order – review

Brixton Academy, London

"He's no Hooky, is he?" says a man behind us as New Order's new bassist Tom Chapman throws shapes and strikes poses that he hopes might one day be as memorable as the absent Peter Hook's legendarily low-slung, legs-splayed stance. He knows he has gargantuan boots to fill; it was always Hook's glowering presence and elasticated bass melodies that carried New Order live.

Since Hook split from the band in 2007 amid declarations that there was no New Order without him and a firestorm of abuse for Bernard Sumner, the focus rests solely on singer Sumner, a man with the on-stage persona of a nervous best man. He chats about Manchester United, thanks crowd members who have come from abroad, does his dad-style dancing and even tries a spot of comedy mime, checking his watch and pretending to whistle impatiently on the "now I stand here waiting" line of Blue Monday. The return of keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, doing her best standing-very-still-in-a-sparkly-collar thing, does little to assuage the sense that there is something rather hefty missing.

They have split and reformed numerous times in their 32-year history, but with the remaining members now claiming there'll be no more New Order albums, there's an air of finality to this London show – besides some summer festival dates and a slot at the Olympic closing show alongside Blur, this might really be it. A shame, then, that where you'd want a celebratory blow-out, you get a squib with the odd dramatic spark.

Repeating, virtually track-by-track, the career-spanning set from last December's Troxy gig (released as Live at the London Troxy), New Order's proto-electro sound is monstrous and magnificent, laced with equal parts doom and jubilance. But Sumner's frail vocals are buried, the melodies of stone-cold classics Crystal, Bizarre Love Triangle and Regret lost beneath the breezy pop blast, leaving the impression of clumsy karaoke.

Though there's often good reason not to hear Sumner's lyrics – this is the man, remember, who sang that when he was a very small boy, very small boys spoke to him – the set only truly stuns when not relying on his hooks. When Ceremony takes atmos-pop back to its subterranean Manchester roots. When True Faith builds from flashbulb strobe pulses to a stabbing rave-piano climax that might have just invented slaughter-house. When tides of industrial metalwork machinery, ray-gun fire and poltergeist choirs convene on a superb Blue Monday. And when the encore of Joy Division numbers – Transmission and Love Will Tear Us Apart, glazed with an uplifting synth glitz – reminds us how formative New Order have been in modern pop.

As swansongs go, though, this lacked a fitting magic.

At Glasgow Academy, tomorrow. Box office: 0844 477 2000. Then touring until 8 May.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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