MANCHESTER, England -- A reunited New Order, playing their third gig of
1998, headlined an all-night dance festival here Tuesday with a surprisingly joyful
performance. "Tonight was the birth of a new New Order," declared singer/guitarist
Bernard Sumner, who spent the night bounding about the stage and chatting delightedly
with the crowd, in contrast to his usual dour, uncommunicative stage presence.
The "Temptation" festival, named for a classic New Order single, also featured techno
band Underworld, who played a 90-minute set in the wee hours Wednesday, and a host
of top DJs including Laurent Garnier, Andrew Weatherall and Justin Robertson. The
whole festival moves to London's Alexandra Palace on New Year's Eve.
Before performing at Manchester's Apollo Theatre in July, New Order hadn't played
anywhere in five years. If that show was a night for older fans to savor, then Tuesday's
show, for a crowd of more than 12,000 at the Manchester Evening News Arena, was a
chance for a younger audience to discover the band. New Order's pioneering fusion of
electronic and guitar music paved the way for numerous new-wave and goth acts.
"They were awesome," 21-year-old Tracey Edwards, a student from Manchester, said. "I
was too young last time around but I've always loved their records. Brilliant, brilliant
New Order have always had a close relationship with Manchester, which served as
home base for both the band and Joy Division, the late-'70s post-punk band from which
New Order sprang. They are regarded with great esteem and affection here; and the roar
that greeted every song Tuesday proved that despite not releasing any new material in
five years, they still have a huge fanbase.
As with their two appearances earlier in the year, the Manchester set included Joy
Division numbers that, until this summer, hadn't been played since Joy Division singer
Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980. The band was introduced by an aging Mancunian
known only as Uncle Alf and opened the set with "Regret," from the Republic
(1993) album. It was immediately clear they were enjoying themselves greatly.
New Order's bassist Peter Hook amply demonstrated his customary low-slung bass
technique -- his legs got so far apart you might have worried that he would need help up,
Spinal Tap-style. Drummer Stephen Morris and keyboardist Gillian Gilbert were
unobtrusive in the background, as usual. The real surprise, for anyone who remembered
the old New Order, was how upbeat and happy Sumner seemed. He whooped during
songs, danced around the stage and thanked the crowd between songs.
New Order may have been playing old material, but they were no slick, greatest-hits
machine. Having to restart "Guilty Partner," a song they had never played live before,
Sumner told the crowd, "Even we make mistakes. We'll get it right this time, but if we
don't, it's all part of the charm."
The Joy Division songs, including "Heart & Soul" and "Atmosphere," sounded at home
alongside the New Order tunes, revisiting the glacial cool of the early years to great
effect. "I never thought I'd hear them play these songs again," said Michael Stokes, 27, a
graphic designer from Manchester. "It's incredible. When they played 'Ceremony' I was
in tears, shivers down my spine; never heard anything like it."
Although Sumner's enthusiasm was endearing, Cath Patterson, 29, a TV producer,
thought he overdid it. "The show was marvelous, but it was really weird," she said. "It was
hilarious seeing Bernard dancing like an embarrassing uncle at a wedding, and the
whooping was funny, but during [Joy Division's] 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' -- no way! He
should have some respect for that song! I don't know how the others in the band kept a
Sumner did seem to realize how ridiculous he looked. At one point, he said, "Tell me if
I'm whooping too much. I'm just having a f---ing great time." Sumner's joie de
vivre was infectious; and he seemed particularly energized during the band's
encores, which ended with what he introduced as "a f---ing good song" -- New Order's
1983 electro-pop classic "Blue Monday."
"The only other bands that could come back and get this devotion would be the original
Stone Roses or the Smiths," Patterson said, referring to two hugely popular '80s guitar
bands, both from Manchester.
Another fan, Craig Munro, 26, said the show was "really brilliant, but I don't want New
Order to turn into some nostalgia act. They're too good for that. They have to write
something new; otherwise, people won't keep coming back."
New Order's plans are vague at the moment; all the members have individual projects in
the pipeline. Sumner has teamed up with ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr for a third
Electronic album, Hook is working on an album by his band Monaco, and Gilbert
and Morris are about to release new material with their side project the Other Two.
Later at the "Temptation" festival, Underworld played a magnificent set that featured a
seamless mix of songs from their last two albums along with material from their
soon-to-be-released Beaucoup Fish. They had the entire crowd of weary revelers
on their feet at 2 a.m. during their anthem
"Born Slippy," which was a huge U.K. hit.