Concert review: New Order, Vector Arena

By Jonathan Ganley

Once the talisman of a laminated photo pass was placed around my neck, all cynicism disappeared. Photo / Jonathan Ganley
Once the talisman of a laminated photo pass was placed around my neck, all cynicism disappeared. Photo / Jonathan Ganley

Given the task by the VOLUME editor of both photographing and reviewing the New Order show at Vector Arena, your correspondent had some misgivings about the early start ("doors at seven"), the overpriced merchandise, the instructions over the venue loudspeakers, the $5 bottles of water and $9 draft beer in a plastic cup. However, once the talisman of a laminated photo pass was placed around my neck, all cynicism disappeared. The security was helpful, the venue interior had been reconfigured to a more intimate size, and the crowd was buzzing. Welcome To The Machine.

Support band Junica played a short but impressive set. Guitarist and vocalist Nik Brinkman's influences are clear - there's plenty of '80s/'90s Church/Cure/New Order/Creation Records in the mix. But the songs were well-constructed pop rock: loud, swirling and dynamic. No complaints about the sound.

Then waiting for New Order. Pondering the big questions: would they cut it without Peter Hook? Is this really The Other Two plus Bernard?

The arena floor was comfortably packed when the lights went down and the group appeared, starting with a truncated Elegia and moving through a 90-minute set that touched on almost every album and aspect of their career. It was a retrospective journey from their beginning, but with no surprises: from plangent guitars and hesitant vocals (Ceremony) to synthesisers, sequencers and drum machines (Bizarre Love Triangle, Blue Monday and Temptation). They finished with a rousing football stadium version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, which would have made me cringe if I hadn't already been appalled by the same treatment meted out to the song 10 years ago at the Big Day Out.

The show reminded me of Kraftwerk's performance in 2008, where the band was anonymous and the visuals became a seamless part of the whole package. This was especially noticeable during 586. That visual anonymity added to my feeling that there was something missing. Tom Chapman has to fill a big pair of badass motorbike boots. He plays Peter Hook's bass parts well, and adds some new flourishes of his own, but the sight of Hook's ridiculous but endearing rock star posing, flailing his low-slung bass, always made a great foil to Sumner's trademark yearning vocals, air-punching, whooping and dancing.

I enjoyed the show. Unlike the 1982 gig this was nothing revolutionary, although I wasn't expecting anything except good songs played to a receptive crowd who were well up for it. I was dancing really badly, and I wore earplugs but took them out halfway through The Perfect Kiss because I wanted to hear the rest of the set at full volume. I wouldn't go so far as one local promoter who bagged the show on Twitter last night, describing one song as "a mid-morning singalong at Sunny Hills retirement home".

New Order may record again, take chances again, and one day surprise us again. But I can see Bernard Sumner 10 years from now, onstage like Ralf Hütter, with huge video screens, three faceless accomplices and a row of laptops: the new New Order.

Who: New Order
Where: Vector Arena, Auckland
When: Monday 27 February

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