When Ian Curtis fronted Joy Division, the band agreed that should any of them ever leave, the remaining members would change the name and do something different. They probably didn’t expect that the singer would kill himself aged 23 or that the band would regroup with a new electronic direction as New Order, never mind that subsequently estranged bassist Peter Hook would perform the entire Joy Division back catalogue in a church in Curtis’s hometown on the 35th anniversary of his death.
This shouldn’t work, but Hook has dusted off the legendary canon with the care of a museum curator. His lower vocal register suits the songs perfectly, and he delivers them with tenderness or venom. Delivered in chronological order, the 47 songs – almost three-and-a-half hours of music – trace Joy Division’s hurtling trajectory from a ramshackle but spirited punk band into something powerful and astonishing. Somewhere around Exercise One, Hook channels their youthful realisation that the future offered anxiety and fear, and the gig audibly levitates.
With the light coming in through a stained glass window bearing the image of an arms-outstretched Christ, the atmosphere – and, well, Atmosphere – is spookily emotional. People hug during Disorder and spontaneously applaud right in the middle of Shadowplay. Happy Mondays singer Rowetta takes four songs; again, it shouldn’t work, but her exquisitely passionate New Dawn Fades underlines what fantastic songs these are.
Darkness descends, appropriately, for Closer, Joy Division’s majestic final album, and you can’t help wonder how the middle-aged Hook feels, singing his friend’s poignant words, which he was too young to understand at the time. The funereal The Eternal, under electric candlelight, is ethereally beautiful, before Love Will Tear Us Apart forms part of a more celebratory finale.
One also wonders how Curtis would have felt about it all. But he wanted to leave a legacy, and this was his life.
• Peter Hook & the Light play UK festivals, including BL9 Weekender, Manchester, 13-14 June. Tour details.