When We Were Young
Issue 2, Volume 113
“But I remember when we were young,” Peter Hook hums to the audience, who, despite the melancholic lyrics, were cheering beyond measure.
After the unfortunate dissolutions of the highly influential English post-punk band Joy Division and its synthpop reboot, New Order—two bands in which Peter Hook played bass—he founded Peter Hook and the Light in 2010, which aims to commemorate both acts through covers and world tours.
Located on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen, Terminal 5 was the other side of a surreal time warp. The simplistically decorated space with high ceilings and a single disco ball housed a groovy past on August 27. In the vestibule alone, four old men were wearing the same “Unknown Pleasures” shirt: a Joy Division cult. These four were an omen to the masses of aging goths eager to relive their youthful days before the death of Ian Curtis and their rheumatoid arthritis.
The band took the stage in vaguely cult-ish matching red, with the digits “988” across their chests. It appeared to be an inside joke or endearing quip, as was Peter Hook’s guitar strap that read “Hooky,” but Hook explained that “988” was a reference to the newly changed suicide hotline number. He recalled the suffering of Ian Curtis, the enigmatic frontman of Joy Division who had committed suicide in 1980, a day before the band was planning to leave for their first tour in the United States. Curtis was the catalyst for Joy Division, and his vulnerability and tenacity were arguably what made the band iconic. More than 40 years later, his bandmates bore the number 988—three digits that would have potentially changed the trajectory of the band. The audience could not escape the unvoiced, “What if?”
The unspoken tension was palpable in the crowd. Curiosities preemptively questioned the performance’s potential ode to Ian Curtis, and comparisons to past concerts of Joy Division immediately began to spread. The setlist for the show was ambitious. Not only did Peter Hook and the Light play both of Joy Division’s studio albums, “Unknown Pleasures” (1979) and “Closer” (1980), but there were also two lengthy openers. El Ten Eleven, an instrumental post-rock duo with clear influences from the electric and synth components of Hook’s projects, opened the show with mesmerizing riffs. Immediately afterward, Peter Hook and the Light entered the stage to play six New Order songs in their typical vivacious glory for a second opener. However, the New Order opener left out some of their most beloved songs, such as “Blue Monday” (1983) and “Bizarre Love Triangle” (1986), leaving fans disappointed. Regardless, a New Order performance was still humbly accepted by the sea of bald heads who were desperate for a retrospect. The concert space was transformed as the crowd overcame collective joint aches to wave hands in the air.
Just as quickly as it came, the synthesized brightness gave way to the dark, ephemeral tones of Joy Division. The notable duality of Peter Hook and the Light’s capabilities was evident. Darkness and decadent bass heavily descended upon the crowd, the weight comparable to that of their orthopedic shoes. The band’s rendition of “Day of the Lords,” a song about the woes of being born and having to carry on existing, was the most dramatic performance of the night. The atmospheric gloom factor culminated at this point. “I’ve seen the nights, filled with bloodsport and pain / And the bodies obtained, the bodies obtained,” Hook enunciated slowly, composing a nightmarish illustration as the bassist complemented the desolation with ponderous strums in a slow tempo.
It was hard not to consider the present and past while Hook played the set, especially during “I Remember Nothing,” the last song off of Joy Division’s album, “Unknown Pleasures.” Hook honored the legacy of Curtis while applying novel artistry by adapting his old tunes to their new environment. Hook raised the pitch of Curtis’s trademark deep, distant vocals and took more tonal risks with the delivery of the lyrics. Surprisingly, both the vocal and instrumental performances were bold, passionate, and engaging, and the sound quality was more refined than the original recordings, suggesting an evolution of their work. Peter Hook and the Light managed to be emotionally impactful with the depth and clarity of the instrumentation. While the music recarved the tangled, weathered smile lines at the corners of its audience’s lips, there was an evident longing for what was lost—both Ian Curtis and the years of youth that remain only in memory and in Hooky.