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New Order at Brixton Academy, review: ‘a late career high’

Originally published by the Daily Telegraph.

It’s customary for a New Order gig to begin with Elegia, a musical tribute to their late Joy Division bandmate Ian Curtis. However, in a week where music venues were no longer safe spaces, the band instead paid respect to the lives lost in the Paris terrorist attacks.

“Vive la France!” declared frontman Bernard Sumner in front of a proud French flag, with the band dedicating their first of two shows at Brixton Academy to the victims and their families.

As the electronic reincarnation of Joy Division, no band understands the art of channelling sombreness into strength better than New Order, and in their sold-out show, they did so with grace. Set opener Singularity, taken from their new album Music Complete, surged through its six minutes of electronic rock. After a decade between records, it’s surprising to find them on such strong form.

Of course, this is New Order, and bad habits still abound. Sumner’s vocals remain patchy, and he still can’t help whistling like a fan at a football game, but he found his footing during Tutti Frutti – thanks in part to La Roux’s Elly Jackson, who joined him onstage to perform the duet. Complete with visuals that recalled their 1989 album Technique, they evoked italo disco in a way that Giorgio Moroder no longer can.

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In greater harmony were drummer Stephen Morris and his wife Gillian Gilbert, who returned to the band in 2011 after a decade-long absence. On synth-heavy cuts such as 586, she was the perfect foil for Morris’s precise, almost mechanical drumming. Much is made of former bassist Peter Hook’s acrimonious split from the band, but it was clear from songs such as Bizarre Love Triangle that Gilbert’s contributions are just as vital.

In fact, for the first time in a decade, the band truly sound like they’re having fun. Where once they would mine their catalogue for the purpose of nostalgia, they’re now starting to experiment with past hits. The Perfect Kiss was given a particularly fine showing – the key made lower and the synthesisers made sharper – with Tom Chapman replicating Hook’s bass lines with ease.

A rapturously received True Faith confirmed that the band have found what made them so dynamic in the first place, however the future of New Order remains uncertain. There’s a crude finality in an album title like Music Complete, but if these shows are laying the foundation for a farewell, then the band are ending on a late career high.

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