Peter Hook& The LightBring Joy Division to Life

The late Ian Curtis honored by a set of Joy Division songs

Photo by Junette Reyes

In 1978, four teenagers from industrial Manchester set out to form their own band, inspired by the Sex Pistols appearance at the Free Trade Hall. The story of Joy Division is a well-documented tale, from their beginnings under the name Warsaw to Ian Curtis’ eventual suicide on the eve of their North American tour. It would be unfair to categorize the celebrated New Order as merely a post-script to the story, with all their accomplishments and recognition as a seminal synth-pop band. In recent years, tensions between bassist Peter Hook and the rest of the band have brought us to the current chapter of this Mancunian story. Peter Hook declined to join his reformed bandmates in 2011, instead forming his own band. Under the name Peter Hook & The Light, they have toured extensively, giving life to Joy Division songs that never saw live performances on this side of the Atlantic.

Last Friday, Peter Hook & the Light arrived for their first South Florida show. The dark industrial setting of the cavernous Grand Central seemed appropriate for material that was written and rehearsed amidst a backdrop of derelict warehouses. Prior to the band taking the stage, the sold out crowd was treated to a DJ set from the venerable Arthur Baker, who produced New Order’s “Thieves Like Us” and “Confusion”. When Baker dropped the latter, the crowd went into a frenzy. In an unexpected twist, Baker’s spinning of “Confusion” was actually the segue for Peter Hook and The Light to take the stage. A quarter of the way through the song, the band synced up with the track and so began an opening set of New Order songs.

The band played a set of New Order songs including “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “Love Vigilantes”, and “True Faith”, which culminated with an intense rendition of their 1985 single “The Perfect Kiss”. Despite lacking the famous “frog” sample, it was a version that outclassed the rendition that I witnessed New Order perform several years back at the Bayfront Ampitheatre. There was intensity present in this live performance that made New Order’s live version seem pedestrian. At the height of the song, Hooky (as his fans call him) jumped onto a monitor and leaned over to the fans during his bass solo, the spotlight on him as the opening set came to a close.

Following a very brief intermission, the band returned for the Joy Division set, where both Closer and Unknown Pleasures were played in their entirety. Many people have commented on Peter Hook’s vocal abilities, or his lack thereof. I didn’t find this to be a deterrent, or a hindrance to my enjoyment of the show. On the contrary, Hooky closely matched Ian Curtis’ monotonous baritone faithfully. I am sure the idea of anyone, stepping forward to sing Ian Curtis’ vocals is downright blasphemous, but if anyone is fit for the role, who better than a former bandmate and close friend? One criticism aimed at Peter Hook is his vocals on the New Order tracks. It was drowned out on most New Order songs by the choruses of singing fans, repeating each lyric in unison. Don’t let people convince you that the vocals ruin the show: they’re wrong. The vocals themselves are not the focal point of this show, and shouldn’t be put under a microscope.

Peter Hook & The Light performing Love Will Tear Us Apart
Peter Hook & The Light performing Love Will Tear Us Apart

It must be noted that The Light, Hook’s backing band were very proficient with instrumentation, faithfully duplicating what was on record. The show was akin to a marathon, a three hour journey into a sizeable portion of the entire Joy Division studio discography, a set of New Order songs, and an encore to boot. The band totaled thirty one songs on the set list, and those in attendance left with a feeling of satisfaction. While it wasn’t Joy Division, it was the next best thing.

Quick Thoughts

  • Highlights include The Perfect Kiss, New Dawn Fades, Decades, and Means to an End.
  • Grand Central has done a solid job at bringing in “80s legacy” acts that otherwise might skip Florida altogether.
  • After closing with Love Will Tear Us Apart, Peter Hook threw his Hacienda shirt into the ravenous crowd.
  • There were much less Unknown Pleasures shirts in the crowd than I anticipated, with only twenty five in attendance.