The Band: New Order, October 5 2012. A British New Wave rock band whose guitar-and-synth sound conjures instant images of asymmetrical haircuts and pegged pants, New Order was born from the ashes of Joy Division after the tragic suicide of that band’s vocalist Ian Curtis in 1980. Band members Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert formed one of the most influential bands of the decade. But since they broke up the first time in 1994 – reforming in different subsets every few years – the band is mostly in the news for squabbles around copyright ownership and bassist Peter Hook’s self-declared “war” on Bernard Sumner. This tour, on which Sumner, Morris, and Gilbert are joined by Phil Cunningham and the less hawkish Tom Chapman on bass, is the first in seven years, and includes only seven U.S. stops.
The Venue: The Fox Theater, Oakland CA. Smack dab in the middle of Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood, the Fox is at the epicenter of Oakland’s First Friday Art Murmur each month. The streets are closed off, food trucks park, soundstages and portable mikes get thrown up throughout the neighborhood, and art galleries are open for the browsing. A huge, diverse crowd stops for cocktails at Dogwood and SomaR and Make Westing and then wanders about checking out the music and art and food and each another. All of which is to say that when you’re tempted to skip New Order because you don’t want to leave the street party, Oakland is doing something right.
The Company: Andrea, last by my side for the Black Keys. Never one to let a comic opportunity pass unexploited, the high point for Andrea this time came as we found ourselves packed onto the floor behind a couple who were engaged in the most egregious Public Display of Affection that has ever been PD’d. At no point were the man’s hands NOT groping his girlfriend top to toe, and they managed to fully make out with their backs to the stage during “Ceremony.” It was so exasperating and rude that Andrea finally placed her own hand on the girl’s rear end to see if she would even notice the extra grope-age. She did not. EITHER time.
The Crowd: I expected a crowd that looked just like me, that is, middle age folks reliving their more gothic youth. While that sub segment was definitely present, it was nice to see a much younger demographic singing along with the set list too.
And I forgot to factor in that New Order’s music slots just as easily between Pet Shop Boys and Erasure on a mixtape as it does the Smiths and the Cure. That accounted for a high concentration of gay men who were shaking their shoulder pads to “Age of Consent” throughout the ‘80s. Indeed we found ourselves with a scrum of tall guys from the Castro who were beyond chivalrous; when the band came on they insisted we stand in front of them. They also taught us a new term to describe the groping man’s actions with his gal’s posterior – “We call that ‘doing an oil check.’”
On the other side was a 6’5” man who threw his hands in the air like he just didn’t care, and managed to keep them up for the entire set. BYOBO.
Age Humiliation Factor: Like a fine wine.
My laugh lines and chinkles actually made me feel a little superior because they proved I’d been around to see them waaaay back in the day, when Hook was still with the band.
Cool Factor: High.
In that there are so few dates on this tour, it was definitely a coup to get into the sold-out show, and people had come from all over to catch it. The guy next to us had flown from Mexico to San Diego then driven up that day for the concert, because, he said, “I’ve been waiting to see them for 25 years.” Given his youth, this means that he fastened upon that dream in first grade. Bless his heart.
Worth Hiring the Sitter? If you have True Faith, you’ll want to get in Close Range.
For a bunch of people who look now like they could work in accounting at a high tech firm, New Order kicked out the jams. Sumner in particular looked like he was having a blast, Morris’ drumming was superb, and while Gilbert has always had a rather static stage presence, I definitely saw her smile once. The crowd energy was off the charts and in the few instances where Sumner’s voice seemed a bit taxed – with Hook gone, it means he’s the only one who sings – the crowd was happy to supply all the backing vocals, and some of the lead. When they played “Temptation,” the room just broke wide open.The encore included a touching Druids-on-the-beach video montage to Ian Curtis that underscored the grief out of which this band was born. Maybe that inauspicious beginning is the reason that, even with periodic civil wars threatening to tear it apart, again, New Order has managed to endure.