Peter Hook’s bass playing has an intriguing draw to it. His approach is primal and rudimentary, but contains a natural impetus all its own. On his work with New Order, Hook’s icy styling is often relegated to the background in exchange for pop textures and disco rhythms. But on his humble beginnings with Joy Division, you’ll notice the bassist competing with the guitar to see which can conjure the most achingly pained melody. It’s an interesting dichotomy and just goes to show how good Hook is at what he does. The man plays with such firm conviction too that it propels your body to both dance and think about what you’re hearing.
As the story goes, Joy Division and New Order garnered praise like rapid fire, cementing Hook’s status in the pantheon of punk rock history.
Joy Division singer and lyricist Ian Curtis had committed suicide on the verge of the band’s first US tour in the late 70s, leaving Hook and co. to preserve his bygone legacy. New Order soon emerged from the ashes of Joy Division to become one of the most pivotal and enduring acts of the 80s. After several years of no longer playing with New Order, Hook formed a new band with his son and members of his former band Monaco, Peter Hook and the Light.
Last week inside Montreal’s Fairmount Theatre, Hook and the Light took the stage to perform a two-and-a-half hour set comprising tracks from Substance – both New Order and Joy Division compilation albums – and bridged the gaps in between with deep cuts.
The performance was a fulfillment of the colossal impact New Order and Joy Division left behind. Some might say it gave even more in return. Ian Curtis’ tragic suicide almost left those expectations untended to. Though it’s easy to ignore the significance of what Joy Division did for music by asking what could have come after, second-guessing is fairly pointless. The magnitude of Joy Division’s bass-heavy, minimalism is still being fully realized today. Hook and the Light is perhaps the closest incarnation of Curtis we’ll ever get to hear, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hook’s elastic bass tone sounded as sharp as ever. The crowd’s movement was just as propulsive, swelling like a rave to New Order’s pop mastery and bashing fluidly to each Joy Division track. It was a thing of beauty.
It was astonishing how good they sounded live, especially considering Hook’s ripe old age. The bassist displayed an immaculate reverence for his musical past and even channeled Curtis’ monotonous bravado with perfect mimicry.
Hook’s real forte though is his bass playing. With no opener slated on the bill, Hook and the Light were able to curate the set with casual and diehard fans in mind.
Hook’s son, Jack Bates, played lead bass on occasion, nearly challenging his father’s slick instrumental finesse. The two played harmonies together as well and displayed consummate professionalism in the process. Although Hook’s vocal range isn’t suited to singing New Order songs, vocalist and guitarist David Potts was more than able to reach those notes.
The second set of the night, in which the band performed Joy Division tracks, relied less on New Order’s sensory-overload and opted for the classically moody introspection of Ian Curtis. Indeed, Joy Division is music for people at odds with the world – it echoes like a cavern and couples pleas of alienation with brittle vigor. The mid-tempo plod of “She’s Lost Control,” the nervy catharsis of “Transmission” and the grim pulse of “Heart and Soul” were galvanizing punk romps and served as a necessary change from New Order’s plastic-y pop sheen. Closing with the seminal “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Hook let the audience briefly take over his vocal duties, where they bellowed the chorus with unabashed glee.
What carried the performance, though, was the unwavering intent Hook brought to nearly every song. He snarled with burning intensity on each Joy Division track, playing each melody as though they were still fresh in his mind. He was even able to integrate his punk-leanings completely into the New Order set. One could argue to death Hook’s greatest musical achievement, but this night was a culmination of each of them.