New Order's music hits differently when listened to alone. There’s something about the moody, longing quality of Bernard Sumner’s vocals and the band's slick synth instrumentals that satisfies deeply if you're lonesome tonight or just want to say "leave me alone." Whether it's the coldness of Movement, the after-hours melancholy of Low-Life, or the anti-social disdain of "Blue Monday," there's a lot of alienation to be found in the New Order discography.
With all of the above in mind, it’s a bit of a “shellshock” to the system to see them perform live in a massive, near-sold out auditorium. Last night marked the first of New Order's four-night residency at the Fillmore Miami Beach, and the band kicked things off with a redux of their celebrated show at the 2017 Manchester International Festival, which was recently shared on a very good live album with an impossible-to-pronounce title. Last night's show shared a similarly odd name: "?(No,5k,20Mia)"
The band played a set that was near-identical to their MIF concert, albeit with some song swaps made here and there to keep fans on their toes. All the hits were played: "Bizarre Love Triangle," "True Faith," "Temptation," and even "Blue Monday" all reared their heads. As if that wasn't enough, the night was also heavy on Joy Division tunes, with Unknown Pleasures' iconic opener "Disorder" making an appearance alongside Closer cuts "Heart and Soul" and "Decades." "Love Will Tear Us Apart," Joy Division's best-known song, even served as the final song of the evening. The band played a little bit of everything for everyone, offering an ample amount of deep cuts for hardcore fans and more than enough crowdpleasers to satisfy concertgoers who purchased their ticket on a whim.
If you didn't hear your favorite song, the good news is that there are still three more nights to go.
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Musically, the band was firing on all cylinders and clearly pleased to be in Miami. Even at 64, frontman Bernard Sumner has managed to retain the air of coolness and "dispassionate rock star" persona he's cultivated through the years. He's a bit more expressive than he is on record, and frequently stepped to the front of the stage to shred his guitar solos or hand the mic to audience members during the most memorable refrains from New Order's oeuvre. Fortunately, these more conventional rock star stunts were still dripping with dry Mancunian charm.
The band's catalog has aged similarly well: even though New Order helped to define the sound of the '80s with their synth-driven dance-rock, songs such as "Ultraviolence" don't sound dated in the least. Occasionally, songs like "Bizarre Love Triangle" boasted slightly more modern arrangements that resembled the clean, glossy sound of their 2015 album Music Complete. It's admirable, as any band should try to move forward creatively, but it also seems slightly pointless. After all, you can't improve on perfection.
The band's visuals were equally as impressive as their sound. New Order have always had impeccable design, and this tastefulness extends to their staging. In addition to the usual flashing colored lights you'll find at a concert, a long, horizontal screen played thematic video footage with nearly every song. Some were more obvious than others: a neon colored bullet motif for "Ultraviolence," or a woman "walking in the park" to match the lyrics of "Subculture." Others featured stylish abstractions or stock video, and "Vanishing Point" took the audience through the stars for a survey the moon while "Temptation" alternated between disco ball-tinted imagery, a grid of appropriately colored eyes, and captured road trip footage.
The two most affecting pairings of sound and vision arrived at the beginning and end of the show. During the walk-on tune "Times Change," archival footage of Miami Beach came on-screen, prompting cheers from the audience members who recognized bygone icons like Wolfie's Rascal House; the encore rendition of "Decades" was set to affecting grainy video of deceased Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.
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Of course, if there's anything that'll be hard to forget about this show, it's the crowd. The New Order fans in attendance were diverse in age but mostly seemed to be middle-aged Gen-Xers who wore unpretentious clothes and were happy to share their passion for the band to whoever was around. One guy pulled up a picture of his ticket stub from a show the band played with Echo and the Bunnymen in the '80s, while another asked if I'd read the memoir written by ex-band member and influential bassist Peter Hook.
So what's it like listening to New Order with other people? Better than the alternative, and not just because they put on a hell of a live show.
- "Times Change"
- "Who’s Joe"
- "Dream Attack"
- "Heart and Soul"
- "All Day Long"
- "Guilt is a Useless Emotion"
- "Bizarre Love Triangle"
- "Vanishing Point"
- "True Faith"
- "Blue Monday"
- "Love Will Tear Us Apart"