JOY DIVISION ORCHESTRATED @ Perth Concert Hall gets 7/10

Joy Division Orchestrated @ Perth Concert Hall

Friday, August 9, 2019


Joy Division Orchestrated is Peter Hook’s latest endeavour in his ongoing efforts to celebrate Joy Division’s enduring musical legacy, something that the legendary bassist has been doing to rave reviews with his touring band The Light since 2010.

It’s an ambitious project which sees Hook, along with fellow Mancunian conductor and musical director Tim Crooks, striving to add a new dimension to some of Joy Division’s most celebrated songs by reframing them in a lavish, orchestral setting. Joy Division Orchestrated live at Perth Concert Hall was only the show’s third public outing to date, following sell-out performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Sydney’s Opera House Concert Hall a few weeks earlier.

With Crooks waving the conductor’s baton and steering the ship on the night, it was down to the Sydney Metropolitan Orchestra with their arsenal of brass, stringed, percussive and wind instruments to breathe new life into the song arrangements alongside Hook and his usual bandmates from The Light, including his longtime Monaco songwriting partner David Potts, all jamming out on the classic rock instruments familiar to the original recordings.

Of course, no version of any Joy Division song is ever complete without generous helpings of Hook’s trademark lead basslines, whether they are backed by a 28-piece orchestra or not – and thankfully Crooks managed to find space amidst the dense arrangements to let the man let rip on his musical weapon of choice. And let rip in low-slung, loud and proud fashion the bass maestro duly did, reeling off the memorable melodic bass lines that drive most Joy Division songs on his trusty Yamaha BB series in authentic-sounding fashion. Peter Hook must be the only bass player in the world who can insist on playing solo after solo during a performance and no one complains.

In amongst the sophisticated looking stage plot with all the ornate classical instruments on display, Hook’s eye-catching bass equipment, set up with two 15-inch bass speakers adorned with spray painted graffiti that read “Salford Rules” and “Guitar Nero” really did stand out, both as a cool nod to the band’s original punk roots and a nice reminder that at the end of the day, Joy Division was, and will always be, a rock band first and foremost. Don’t be fooled by the huge orchestra folks, these are still rock songs underneath everything.

Besides playing bass on the night, Hook also shared lead vocal duties with two other guest singers. Adding a cool feminine dimension to the songs was Mica Millar, whose powerful vocal stylings swooped and soared in all the right places. As an obviously trained singer, unlike Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, Millar has the honed vocals chops and operatic lung power to really cut loose on the mic. Her performance on She’s Lost Control had a controlled intensity to it that really captured the tension in the lyrics. Some songs suffered a little from Millar’s trained approach at times too though. Her too-soulful reading of New Dawn Fades may have been a little too close to Broadway for some purists’ tastes, but on the whole Millar’s take on Joy Division’s music worked well.

Staying true to the original Joy Division vocal style and sound, and coming off more effective for it was Bastien Marshall, who not only looked like Ian Curtis with his austere post-punk fashion and Romanesque bowl haircut, but also managed to get the late singer’s distinctive baritone and stage mannerisms, minus Curtis’ famous jerky dance, down to an absolute tee. Marshall’s impassioned vocal performances on a fantastic sounding Digital and a brooding The Eternal were standout moments in a set full of highpoints, with genuine hair tingling moments when the whole exercise seemed to click perfectly into place.

As for Hook’s vocals, well let’s just be diplomatic and say that lead bass playing remains his strongest suit when it comes to music. Give the man his due though, he really strived to give it his all in front of the mic every time he sang, and his unrivalled love and passion for his old band was apparent for all to see on a superb Shadowplay, which cleverly used Factory boss, the late Tony Wilson’s taped intro as host of British television show So It Goes for Joy Division’s first ever TV appearance to great effect. Dead Souls and Isolation with Hook on lead vocals were good solid versions as well with the orchestra coming to the fore with dramatic swoops and stirring strings. Sometimes passion and a willingness to just go for it can overcome technical deficiencies during a performance and such was the case with Hook’s singing on the night.

There were several highlights on the night to savour; not one but two versions (one jazzy and slow, one original) of Joy Division’s signature tune Love Will Tear Us Apart; an epic instrumental take on Atmosphere which sounded almost cathedral-like in the capable hands of the Metropolitan Orchestra as well a bonkers take on the fantastic Closer track The Atrocity Exhibition. A ghostly sounding Malcolm McLaren-inspired mashup of Love Will Tear Us Apart and Captain and Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together sounded less strange the longer it went on and kept the audience entranced and hungry for more before Hook and his merry band of musicians returned for unbeatable triple knockout punch of Transmission, New Order’s Ceremony and a blistering proper version of Love Will Tear Us Apart to send every home on an absolute high.

Joy Division Orchestrated is a real feast; two tiers of musicians and their beautiful instruments, all laid out on stage as far as the eye can see and all playing in perfect synchronisation, creating this huge, expressive sound and affording the music a stately grandeur. One of the initial worries was whether or not Tim Crooks’ orchestration would be able to capture and retain the beauty, essence and spirit of the source material. Over the course of 24 songs, Joy Division Orchestrated allayed all fears and showed that with songs as good as Joy Division’s, anything is possible.


Photos by Owen Gregory

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