By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
When New Order finished playing "Transmission" — a quirky song by New Order's doomed, post-punk predecessor, Joy Division — singer Bernard Sumner hissed and said, "Enough of that rock s---! We want you to start dancing!" And, true to the band's hits-heavy set, they launched into "True Faith" as if it were a brand-new nightclub sensation.
Like most of the set Tuesday night at the Aragon Ballroom, these were songs they seemed obliged to play. God forbid a New Order concert should pass without "True Faith," "Bizarre Love Triangle" and the requisite Joy Division chestnut.
But during "Transmission," something happened that makes New Order shows still worth seeing after (gulp) a quarter of a century. This band — a British outfit we sometimes know more from dance floors and John Hughes movie soundtracks — actually rocked. Sumner matched the songs' quaint but deceptively foreboding mood with uncharacteristic growling and gurgling (it's a bit low for his range), while bassist Peter Hook barked and shrieked randomly. And for a few minutes, the New Order experience was about pogoing and pumping fists rather than twirling and dancing. Post-punk, indeed.
Tuesday's energetic show was spiced with such moments. Given that the band's live incarnation is a genuine guitar-bass-drums-vocals quartet, the occasional use of pre-recorded synthesizers and beats seemed surprisingly intrusive. The best songs were those that allowed guitarist Phil Cunningham to cut loose ("Regret," "Crystal") and let Hook show off his chiming namesake hooks in soloing poses at the edge of the stage (nearly every song, but especially the new "Hey Now What You Doing" and the opener, "Love Vigilantes").
Hook was manic, and once again he proved to be an invaluable asset in the band's attack — something not said about many bass players. Looking like a bedraggled Alan Rickman, Hook prowled the spotlight all night, plucking out the alarmingly simple bass melodies that make New Order, like so many of the British bands from that early '80s era, sound as good in concert and on the dance floor as it does in the car or on an iPod. Sometimes he's providing the groove, sometimes he's taking the melody, often he's doing both.
Again, this magic peaked during a Joy Division song, the classic "Love Will Tear Us Apart." It had its typically lumbering moments, but when Hook stopped bellowing indecipherably, dropped the melody and started grinding into his black bass next to drummer Stephen Morris' explosive kit, the two sparked some crackling fire, which Hook tamed to the end with an absurd but wildly cheered one-note solo back at stage's edge.
Sumner introduced all the songs — no suspense, no pretensions — cracked jokes and thanked Chicago for waiting 12 years since the band's last local show. And, really, it's that down-to-earth attitude that makes New Order still so engaging at this late date. The band didn't break new ground, by any means, but it rocked — no extended remix required.
at the Aragon Ballroom
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.