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New Order, Brixton Academy | reviews, news & interviews

New Order, Brixton Academy

New Order, Brixton Academy

Some Joy but no Hook from the reformed post-punk pioneers

Bernard Sumner: New Order's frontman lightens up at the Brixton AcademyAll images © Imelda Michalczyk

Someone came all the way from Saskatchewan to see New Order in Brixton last night, which is either a measure of the esteem in which the band is held or an indication that someone had a pile of Air Miles to get rid of. Judging by the positively rapturous cheers that went up as Bernard Sumner ambled onstage for the first London date of their first tour in six years, it must surely be the former.

This is a slight rejigged reformation. Stephen Morris on drums and his wife Gillian Gilbert on keyboards are present and correct, while extra guitarist Phil Cunningham adds some rhythmic ballast. But über-bassist Peter Hook is not currently in the line-up and is reportedly consulting m'learned friends regarding the rights to use the band's name. He is replaced by Tom Chapman, who got the resonant lead bass sounds right, but mostly resisted the urge to copy Hook's distinctive moves – maybe he wants to copyright those too – and came closer to the Andy McCluskey school of gangly grooving.

In fact let's get the only niggle of the night over with now.  Let's be frank. Bernard Sumner (pictured right) is never going to win Strictly Come Dancing either. More than three decades in the job he is chattier than he once was, politely thanking the audience for coming, asking if there are any Mancunians in and mentioning the football, but still no natural frontman, looking particular awkward on the tracks where he dispenses with his guitar. Of course, he was never supposed to be a frontman, only stepping up when Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980.

Apart from Sumner's dubious shuffles it was hard to fault this gig, which worked brilliantly as a neat retrospective without ever succumbing to cheese-tinged nostalgia. The band's spontaneous evolution from nervy post-industrial punks to unlikely dancefloor heroes suddenly made perfect sense hearing a pulsating extended version of "Ceremony" from 1981 followed by "Age of Consent", "Perfect Kiss" and a dazzling "586". Videos onscreen and shafts of oscillating white light beamed around the venue turning the Academy from rock venue to rave, echoing the band's sonic metamorphosis during their phenomenally creative first decade.

The back catalogue had surprising emotional depth too. The oblique "Love Vigilantes" came across as an eerie electronic-meets-Nashville take on "The Green Green Grass of Home", with Sumner seeming to be singing about a dead soldier returning to the family home as a ghost. "True Faith" was simply magnificent, as crisp and as punchy as ever – it was good to see that memorably weird interpretative dance video again, too. The climax, a thunderous  double whammy of "Blue Monday" and "Temptation" was hard to top.

There was, however, still time for an encore. It is an indication that the band is comfortable with their history – or that they know what their hardcore fans want – that they returned for two welcome Joy Division numbers, "Transmission" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart", even if the latter felt a little hurried and lacked the intensity and gravitas of the original version. Somehow I can't imagine Ian Curtis excitedly yelling "C'mon!" in the middle of it if he was still singing it.

 

Where New Order goes from here is more complex. Do they capitalise on their resurgence and release new material or continue to plough their retro-fanbase until everyone’s knees pack up? Either option is full of risks. What is clear is that they are a key component in British music history, essential in forming the bridge between rock and dance. Their selection to represent the 1980s in the Olympics' closing Hyde Park gig, which also features Blur flying the Britpop flag for the 1990s and The Specials doffing a pork pie hat to the 1970s, is inspired. I suspect their friend from Saskatchewan may be clocking up more Air Miles in August for that one.

Follow Bruce Dessau on Twitter

Watch New Order perform "Perfect Kiss"

The band's evolution from post-industrial punks to unlikely dancefloor heroes suddenly made perfect sense

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

Was this reviewer actually there? Love this band, no problems with the venue (two dozen at least, and counting), but the sound was awful. Have never known a mix-desk make such a mess of things, in and out vocals, no isolation of instruments, it was a problem recognising many of the songs. Venue manager extremely sympathetic, but we weren't the only ones unhappy. Someone not doing their job properly, or even at all, in the New Order crew. First time we have ever left a gig before the end.

I wouldn't say the sound was 'awful' from where I was (just behind the chaos in front of the stage). I could tell what every song was within a few notes and this was the first time I'd seen NO live, although it wasn't as crystal I'd have liked. Still, the energy almost made up for that, great gig and if they were missing Hooky, I didn't notice.

I was there last night and really enjoyed the gig. The sound was really bad and I could barely hear the vocals never mind make out the words. They seemed to have focussed on the visuals particularly the lights rather than the sound. It did get better towards the end with Blue Monday, Temptation and Love Will Tear Us Apart.

intresting that you really enjoyed it & then say the sound was really bad & couldn't hear the vocals... that doesn't really add up.

Sound was better than Birmingham - (I was front left) vocals still too low in the mix though. Amusing that middle and back were packed to suffocation but the front you could have sat down and had a picnic :) Demographics innit. Going again tonight, need a ticket. Anyone put off by these reviews I'll gladly take yours. Temptation was astonishing, LWTUA was shambolic. It's New Order :)

The sound was terrible. We were towards the centre and in the supposedly ideal spot for the mix. Barney's voice was so low in the mix that it was often inaudible. The (often unnecessary) two guitars totally dominating the gig - if it was wasn't for the intro then Crystal would have been unrecognisable. The overall effect was a ramshackle soundcheck. For BLT the band seemed to be on five separate click tracks and didn't come together at all. It was only when it got to Temptation that things clicked. It was a shame then that there were only two songs left after that - and they sounded fantastic.

Just to agree with comments above. The sound was absolutely terrible: it often is at the Academy but have never known it so bad. I thought it was just me; it clearly wasnt.

Great to see New Order, but I'm glad it wasn't just me who couldn't hear things. It looked like they did have mic and guitar sound issues judging by the techs running on to fiddle with wires. It made what would have been a great gig a bit disappointing.

The sound was truly awful, the music was muffled and vocals were barely audible from our position (20 yards to the right of the mixing desk). I went over & told them about the sound issues & was told to “f-off” by some large lump of a woman, which was a nice touch. Going again tonight so it had better be sorted.

Glad it wasn't just me then! Sound was truly dreadful, which is inexcusable. Very disappointing.

Adore New Order but the sound was absolutely dire for those of us at the back - so bad that we left the gig with ringing ears by 10.20pm. No fault of the band but Brixton Academy really need to sort out their wonky mics and mixing desk.

TERRIBLE SOUND - TERRIBLE SOUND - TERRIBLE SOUND - TERRIBLE SOUND - The worst sound mix I've ever heard at Brixton Academy. We were more or less centre/centre and the sound was shambolic - Bernard Butlers vocal was always way to low and often inaudible. The band were willing but the sound really detracted from my enjoyment of the gig, hope they get it sorted for tonight.

Bernard BUTLER?

Well, the sound was so bad so it could have been him up there. Oh no, I'm just a daft fuggle brained plonker;-)

Thanks for your comments. I've banged on about bad sound at gigs for as long as I can remember, writing a piece about it here and talking about it in my last review here. It was not good last night but I didn't want to sound like a stuck stylus. It got better as the gig went on, and as I said "True Faith" was clear as a bell and the last few tracks were bang on. I certainly had no trouble recognising songs, but then I had been on a very pleasurable back catalogue binge before the gig. As I've said before though, I find the best policy when not stuck in one seat is to move around until you find the spot that suits your ears best. For some it was better than others last night. Though it doesn't help that Bernard  Sumner is the Whispering Bob Harris of frontmen.

I  certainly don't think we should settle for bad sound, but I fear it is as hard to eradicate as heavy metal and warm lager.

Oh come on Bruce that simply isn't good enough! Just look at the deluge of criticism about the appalling sound. The list continues off the back of the Guardian review too and on a few other chat forums. I have played in most of the London venues over the years and seen bands in just about all of them and that was the worst FOH sound I have ever had to endure, (OK UK Subs in Fulham circa 1979 might just have pipped NO on Thursday night) Are you sure you were there?

I certainly was there and still have the earache to prove it. I'm not disputing the sound was bad at the outset, but even some of the harshest critics here have acknowledged that it improved towards the end. I noticed an improvement from "True Faith" onwards. I was lucky enough to have an access all areas wristband and being unhappy with the volume downstairs I moved to the back upstairs where I didn't think it was as bad from that distance. I noticed the Guardian's critic was also in the balcony and he barely mentioned the sound problems, which suggests it was better in certain parts of the upstairs section. It certainly didn't bother the people in front of me who were having a great time and were continually told to stop dancing by security. I will also let you in on a trade secret. These days reviewers regularly get issued with set lists, which is why they can sound so knowledgeable about obscure cover versions when they file their reviews. At New Order I didn't receive a set list, so if I hadn't been able to identify the songs – as some fans seemed unable to do – I'd have had difficulties writing my review. I'm not saying there were no problems. I am singing from the same songsheet as most of the people here. And from what I've heard it was not much better on the second Brixton night, though reports from other venues say the sound was fine.

I can vouch that Newcastle 8th May was no better & I'm staggered at the similarities with Brixton. It cannot have been Brixton Academy's fault - It has got to have been the band & their technical genius's.

Oh how this once amazing band has fallen. New Order, playing money grabbing 'best of' tours. Seriously. New Order WITHOUT Peter Hook? Seriously. The sound last night? Seriously. Time to call it a day people. Seriously.

Makes me feel better that I was not the only one thinking the sound was terrible. Thought it was years of ear abuse that I couldn't hear any vocals!!! Gutted as was really looking forward to this but just couldn't get into it due to the sound issues. Someone needs their arse kicking

I echo the other comments, this sound was WOEFUL. Which is a huge shame as there was a decent gig hiding in there somewhere. NO set lists have been a bit too predictable in recent time so it was good to see a few new additions, but sadly you couldn’t hear them. Also left before the end as did numerous others. 3/10

Alas, the sound was very bad indeed and agree there was a good gig in there hiding behind it. We did move around but found the sound to be a mess where ever we stood in the stalls - the audio desk should be ashamed of themselves for making such a hash of it. The great shame is that the audience were rather restrained but I honestly think the appalling sound had a lot to do with it. Lastly, the tickets were priced rather high for a Brixton gig (around £39.00 each with booking fees from the box office) I didn't begrudge paying this to see New Order but I now feel rather short changed because the sound did severely detract from the gig.

Alas, the sound was very bad indeed and agree there was a good gig in there hiding behind it. We did move around but found the sound to be a mess where ever we stood in the stalls - the audio desk should be ashamed of themselves for making such a hash of it. The great shame is that the audience were rather restrained but I honestly think the appalling sound had a lot to do with it. Lastly, the tickets were priced rather high for a Brixton gig (around £39.00 each with booking fees from the box office) I didn't begrudge paying this to see New Order but I now feel rather short changed because the sound did severely detract from the gig.

Sound quality was awful which is pretty crucial for New Order. 586 was a travesty. However, they clicked towards end, sound improved and Temptation and Transmission were majestic and had a blast. Hope tomorrow night is better.

Agreed on the sound - I've not been to Brixton recently when the sound hasn't been awful. Though I thought the more electronic numbers sounded a whole lot clearer than the guitar based tracks. The bass drum especially was way too high in the mix - it ended up beating the life out of some of the tracks (the otherwise excellent Round and Round springs to mind). In saying that, it was a generally enjoyable gig. Age of consent was superb despite of the sound, and the reworking of 586 a real highlight. The usual big hits were all performed well, and thankfully the sound did improve in time for True Faith onwards.

I have resisted seeing NO live for 28 years, since they have held such high reverence in my entire musical shaping. Joy Division was a like an epiphany at 16 years old in small town NZ and changed my path into deeper and challenging music. The dozen or so collection of bootleg cassettes and vinyl from early JD + NO gigs I bought affirmed the fact they often could be exceptional on a night or....off key and sloppy. When they were "on" it was like the best live ( without being in the room) experience from a magnetic tape you could find! I have wanted to preserve that feeling and therefore stayed away. I went last night I was not disappointed apart from agreeing that the mix was shocking. It promised so much from the opening programmed samples until the 2 guitars kicked in ( or not !) and Bernard vocals barely amplified until half way through the set. It was a simple fix and yet the deaf mixing desk persons seemed not to have noticed or had made no attempt to remedy. Shame because I was very happy with the ticket price but it always feels like you have been shafted when the live sound is so neglected. On a positive, the lighting design was superb and also the video edits. I work in the Music Industry and think that the live side of the profession needed to get all the fixes right in the soundcheck pre-doors . We have so much great tech and sound equipment these days, there is no excuse for dirty, muddy, un-dynamic, separated channel and then mixed sound. I will see them again as I was able to get 40 mins of good goosebump moments.

Sorry to harp on about it but, this was a truly dreadful gig purely down to the Sound. Thankfully I've not witnessed too many gigs that sounded this bad but it truly was up there with the worst, if not THE worst. As a paying punter who shelled out for 4 of us to go along, I feel very put out that the night was spoiled by someone not able to address the sound issue. £160 on gig tickets alone, cost too & from, a few drinks & a T-shirt £250 straight down the LAV, thanks Brixton.

I emailed Brixton and they are 'looking into it' so we'll see if they come up with a reason. Hopefully the band are now aware of the shambles and will get it right tonight. Yep, I'm going again

Thursday's show was way better, the sound was good (vocals still a bit quiet), but huge improvement

I echo the comments about the TERRIBLE sound. Must be the first time I've left a gig early because of the sound. Every time I've been to Brixton A it's been awful sound, but this was by far the worst. I won't ever go to Brixton Academy again.

Really disappointed with the sound! Such a shame to see a great band like New Order let down by something that should have been perfect. Is this a recurring theme with Brixton Academy?

What a ludicrous review. I was there. It was dreadful. I say that with a truly heavy heart. I am 45 and have worshiped Joy Division and New Order since I was young. My wife had never seen them and got us tickets for my birthday (I have seen them many times). After a few songs she shouted in my ear. This is dreadful isn't. And I sadly had to agree. I have no idea if they were any good since all I could hear was a load of noise. I should point out I am not just a New Order fan I was in my youth a sound engineer working in studios and later in sound gathering. Very sad night. Bitterly disappointed. Anyone who thought it was really good is either happily blinkered and will love them whatever they do... or frankly deaf.

Glad it wasn't just me. I was there last night. High expectations after an amazing night at Wembley Arena a few years back. The sound let us down last night in what should have been an even better gig.

So by the looks of the above, they had not improved for the Thursday night! Ive been waiting to see these for quite some years, was massively excited to be going, and ended up wanting to leave half way through as I was SO disappointing. ....I'm no sound engineer but the songs resembled nothing of what I have grown to love. Surely the band know how bad they sounded?, and should have stopped and come on again, it takes guts but you'd be respected for it... Portishead did this a few years back to great applaud at Hammersmith. Great Visuals APPALLING SOUND!

The sound was indeed terrible but when was it ever polished at a New Order gig? As ever Bernard cant really play sing, certainly cant dance and the arrangements were a mess. But that's not really the point is it - New Order live should not be about studio refinement - they should be about an uplifting wall of sound with tragic undeertones and that is what we got. A great gig I thought and a massive improvement on the last gig I saw them do - 30 years ago at Reading Uni! Despite the sound and lack of Hook lines, New Order have still got something special about them.

already been said but the sound was terrible could not make out any of the lyrics - NO and their following deserve better.

We were to the left of the mixing desk as you faced the stage and in line with a speaker, even moving into the centre the vocals were too low during the songs and even when Bernard was just chatting, we kept shouting "Pardon?" and "Turn Up Your Vocal Bernard" to no avail of course, it was like listening through the neighbours wall. Real shame. You could tell people wanted to have more fun than they were having, it just wasn't working. Whoever was a fault here needs to ask themselves some questions.

Can I add another voice to the throngs of disappointed fans from the Thursday show? The sound? Horrendous!! I left half way through thinking I wouldn't be able to stand to hear Blue Monday sounding so bad. Who to blame? The venue? The band? Or both? I waited 25 years to see NO, and I am broken hearted. Someone needs to take responsibility for this mess.

I went to the gig on Wednesday night. We had concerns when the DJ before the band sounded like he was playing through a echoing plastic cylinder passed through a tin bucket of water. But, yes, the sound didn't improve once New Order came on and I can't believe they used to sound like that in the early days unless everyone in Manchester was hard of hearing or totally smashed. We were very disappointed that we wasted £100 on the evening as we too left before the 4th song finished and stood in the foyer discussing how anyone could get such a bad mix and how woeful the drums sounded, was the keyboard out of tune? It was hard to tell. We pray the Brixton Academy get the sound right as I've never had reason to complain in the past and the Buzzcocks gig is coming up at the end of the month !!

I was standing right in front of the mixing desk and first few songs were raelly bad sound wise, sound became better as the show went on, but overall it was poor !

Glad you enjoyed the gig. We lasted four songs before the sound drove us to the bar in the foyer area. I've been to many, many, many live gigs, and it sad to say that this was one of the only ones I've been forced to walk out of due to the quality of the sound. Which is a great shame because the Brixton Academy sound is usually spot-on AND we paid hard-earned money for those tickets. Hopefully the sound will improve before the Buzzcocks gig at the end of the month. Brixton Academy needs to get on top of it !!

See NO at the Troxy, possibly the best gig i have seen in thirty years....Cannot begin to explain how bad the FOH sound was at Brixton last night, clearly a mixing issue, not appearnt stress at the desk that I could see, such a shame as the band were giving it loads, just shocking sound.

Listening to the bootleg of this as I read and comment. Of course, it is from two sources. Stuck in the States relying on unofficial glimpses of the "tour" I can say that of most of what I have heard Bernard's vocals need to be turned up. They could also turn up his guitar. To those that were expecting to hear the studio versions of their faves, New Order tunes evolve. Something written and recorded with early 80s vintage computers and sequensors aint gonna sound the same 30 years later. What they've done with 586 is phenominal. They only shame is that they truncated TPK.

Didn't like the additional guitar. Too much of a wall of sound and it felt like I was watching the Quo when Barney and the two randoms where rocking out. Like a lot of people here, we where grumbling for the first half but all worth it for the towering versions of Temptation & Transmission. I've got bootlegs going back to the early 80s and NO often shambolic. All debate aside, it's not really NO without Hooky. I appreciate he can be a monumental twat (that book doesn't help) but NO where always greater than the sum of their parts.

THIS IS THE RESPONSE I GOT FROM THE PROMOTER RE: WEDNESDAY 2ND AT BRIXTON I am sorry that you feel the sound for New Order was not good enough. We have now consulted with the production sound engineers and the tour management and they have both stated that the sound levels were mixed correctly and to the level that the band requested for all elements of the show. In their opinion there was nothing wrong on the night unless the acoustics in a certain part of the building affected the sound, but they were not aware of any issues both during the sound check and on the show itself. I am fully aware that this is not the answer you are looking for, but for a live event we have to accept the opinion of the technical personnel as this is their area of expertise and not ours and I can assure you that they are always forthright with their opinions if there were any issues on the night and will explain why, as they always want the best possible sound for the concert and do not want to tarnish their own reputation. Yours sincerely, SJM Customer Services Team

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