Bad Lieutenant – London Camden Electric Ballroom – 18 March 2010
By: Mark Reed
If words were enough, there’d be no need for music.
I’ve got a Joy Division bootleg LP, entitled “Glass Is”. A poorly recorded cassette, made in a basement in Camden at a venue called The Electric Ballroom. I’ve been listening to it for around twenty five years now, and tonight, half of that band – Bernard Sumner, and Stephen Morris – reappear after a thirty year absence in the same room. And whilst some of the songs are the same, everything else has changed.
For the band that used to be New Order, to sell 300 tickets a night for a basement club in Preston is, commercially at least a step down. Only the devoted would see beyond the brand name and investigate. There’s enough in life not to fight against the ever-changing soap opera history of ego and artistic difference. A band is a band, a band is a brand, and what matters is not the name on the cover but the music within.
What’s in a name? A lot as it happens. With the career-suicide decision, back when, all lads together, that if anyone left the band would change their name, most of New Order – vocalist/guitarist Bernard Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris, and guitarist/keyboardist Phil Cunningham – are back in venues a tenth of the size they played previously, even though the band itself – New Order, Bad Lieutenant, – are substantially the same.
Reminiscent of the latter period Suede, where one of the creative forces had been replaced by others of different styles, it’s still – irrespective of the name on the marquee – New Order. If music is about spirit, and it is, then this is New Order.
To an extent, there is a pain in this – everyone here is here not because of this amazing new band, but because of an amazing old band, and trying to experience at least an element of what that old, now nonexistent band had. Beyond that though, the band and its core components, the rhythms and soul of New Order, exists with the mysterious, unquantifiable chemistry between the people on stage. It may be a three legged dog, but the pedigree is still in the blood.
In retrospect though, it is an odd choice. This dingy nightclub is a young man’s room, and the average age here tonight must be nudging or post forty – myself included. I feel relatively young; in so much as I am neither as bald nor as large as many of the crowd. Everyone here also seems to occupy a very particular place – a night off with the babysitter booked to re-experience the music of a quarter century ago.
If you had never seen New Order, or never will again – a distinct possibility with an average age past 50 for at least some in the band – then Bad Lieutenant is clearly an evolutionary step, the next chapter in the journey. They may not be as good as New Order once were, but there’s no step down in quality: and latter day New Order was hardly as good as they once were, but they also were nowhere as bad as popular convention will tell you.
And New Order always went through phases of leaning towards electronics, or guitars. Here, Sumner has fallen back in love with the fret board, and the night is afire with rampant swathes of guitar; aided by the triple-guitar attack of Sumner, Cunningham, and Jake Evans, the original and inventive Joy Division sound which had a brutal economy of scale is often back. What is also clear is in certain songs where Sumner barely sings – for the first time since Joy Division there are several songs Sumner’s delicately honest voice exists only on the periphery of sound – is the joy there is in that noise.
Not that it matters, necessarily. The new stuff – alongside the traditional false start and equipment failure – is well received but absent through familiarity. It’s when the older material, the better known, and utterly perfect “Regret” commences – four years since it was last performed on stage – that the alchemy that Sumner and Morris has often conjured shimmers into view. The set itself covers many of the highpoints of the body of work: 7 songs from the new band, and an equal number of older songs. Whilst you can accuse them of trading on the old bands name – it still is – the essence of New Order with new blood, a new New Order, and whatever this band were called, it would be as much a lineage, a continuation, a signpost for the future of the band in whatever form it goes.
In order to map the future, one must recognise the past: and thus, the 15 minute medley of “Out of Control” and “Temptation” is a rare thrill – akin to the roar of joy in your heart when you recognise an old friend, on top of a multitude of squealing bleeps, bloops, and feedback. Words cannot touch it; only the soul feels it.
It may be a rainy Thursday in Camden outside: inside, the room of middle aged people with hopes and dreams have found a place that the world often hides – the fire of youth that age does not necessarily extinguish.