Show Review: Peter Hook and The Light performing Closer at The Mezzanine, 09/17/2011

by Jonathan Pirro on September 18, 2011

Father and son join for a furious wall of sound

Father and son join for a furious wall of sound

It is frequently said that when you have a formula that works, it is safe to stick with it, but only to the point where you continue to be successful, and not past the point where you’ve entered a realm of dangerous repetition. In 2010 I stated that a popular trend was for a band to go on tour and, as their setlist, play one or more of their classic albums from start to finish. Some acts, such as the Melvins or A Perfect Circle, took up this concept and played multiple albums over multiple nights, and it was a true test of stamina for their fans to make it out for two or three nights in a row to see the entire collection of songs from their catalogue. However, when bassist Peter Hook and his band The Light returned to the Mezzanine in San Francisco to perform Joy Division’s posthumous classic Closer in its entirety, it was quite clear that a nearly-one-year-long wait was a brilliant decision, as it brought a new collection of energetic fans, an explosive performance from Hook and his band, and the reminder that the power and majesty of Joy Division’s music is still fiercely present over 30 years after the release of their final record.

Opening band OONA (headed by singer Oona Garthwaite)

Opening band OONA (headed by singer Oona Garthwaite)

Unlike last year, where the crowd of the Mezzanine booed and hissed as they were treated to a slightly off-kilter trip down memory lane in the form of a Joy Division documentary, the Closer tour brought opening act OONA to the stage, just 30 minutes after the doors opened at a late hour of 9:00PM. In sharp contrast to the dark and haunting tales to be told later that night by Hook and his mates,  the Oakland quartet kicked off the evening with a blast of energetic rock that danced a gamut between indie rock, garage jams, and all-around infectious energy. OONA’s music swung back and forth between furiously danceable numbers that gave a heavy nod to both Pat Benatar and the Arctic Monkeys, and slow groovy tunes that demonstrated the bright and sparkling voice of singer and keyboardist Oona Garthwaite. Bassist Andrew Lion kept a solid rhythm section held down tight with drummer and co-founder Dave Tweedie, while Oona’s jubilant and more lighthearted bursts of dancing and dashing about the stage were mirrored brilliantly in the antics of guitarist Tristan Cannizzaro, who seemed to think that any moment not spent careening excitedly back and forth was a moment wasted. While a good chunk of the crowd seemed set on being stoic and contemplative while waiting for the headliners, a good portion succumbed to the joys of the opening act, who definitely looked like they were having the time of their lives onstage.

Peter Hook returns to the Mezzanine

Peter Hook returns to the Mezzanine

In keeping with the tight schedule that had been displayed with the rapid arrival of OONA, the powers that be that kept the evening going wasted no time, and Peter Hook and The Light marched onto the stage a short while after 10:30PM. While in 2010, Hook had been the dominant force, with the rest of the band seeking to fill the rest of the space with instrumentation to back him up, it was clear that the Light had grown into their roles brilliantly in the time that had passed since their December performance. Bassist Jack Bates remained the most solid and earthbound member of the group, keeping the rhythm, along with drummer Paul Kehoe, with expert precision; guitarist Nat Wason was thus given the opportunity to let loose and dominate the sonic landscape with snarling riffs, brilliant noise collages, and a galloping jot matched only by the thundering excitement of Kehoe’s attack on his kit. Hook, meanwhile, maintained his own role as frontman with great gusto; his voice ran the gamut from harsh and snarling to deep and crooning, with the spirit of Ian Curtis seeming to take hold of him even more deeply than ever before.

Nat Watson following faithfully in the steps of Bernard Sumner

Nat Wason following faithfully in the steps of Bernard Sumner

After a quick set of appetizers — the menacing march of “Incubation” leading into a brilliantly-received “Dead Souls”, followed by two Unknown Pleasures B-sides, “Autosuggestion” and “From Safety To Where?” — Kehoe and Bates began the pounding, intricate dirge that marked the beginning of Closer‘s opening track “Atrocity Exhibition”, with Wason providing a jarring sound collage by scraping his beer bottle on the neck of his guitar. Decidedly wishing to abandon the more punkish energy of Unknown Pleasures in favor of the morbid lushness of this evening’s record, the band brought gorgeous texture to the songs, with Hook’s deep and rigid baritone adding a delicate richness to the precision with which the rest of the band followed in keeping faithful to the record. Songs such as “Isolation”, “Colony” and “Heart And Soul” were definitely the most haunting that they had ever been, with the crowd alternatively eager to contribute their own voices and also holding back, looking both frightened and ecstatic, so dominant was the energy upon the stage.

When savagery turns all good reason, There's no turning back, no last stand.

When savagery turns all good reason, there's no turning back, no last stand

When he wasn’t wrapped around the microphone and offering his sonorous pipes to the dense crowd before him, Hook moved about the stage with determined precision. While most of the songs had been slightly altered to allow him to play higher bass parts as an accompaniment to Wason’s delicate reconstruction of Bernard Sumner’s classic guitar parts, Hook spent most of the set marching about the stage, or standing in place with his body snapped attentively to the rhythm of the songs. For those moments where he was given sway to lead a tune with his own snarling riffs, he was to be seen barreling across the stage and arched out over the edge, his bass neck piercing the artificial veil that separated the band from their crowd of fevered onlookers, or splitting down into a wide stance, nearly pressing the instrument into the floor in his fervor.

Hook's son Jack Bates taking up the bass guitar

Hook's son Jack Bates taking up the bass guitar

When at last the ending section of “Decades” had been reached, Hook departed from the stage as Bates, Wason, Kehoe, and keyboardist Andy Poole carried the song on for several long minutes, a true testament to the magnificent spirit of post-rock that the album helped to father many decades ago, before disappearing in turn. It was only a short wait, however, before The Light and their energetic frontman returned for their encore performance. Finally allowing himself the opportunity to speak to his fans, Hook greeted and congratulated the crowd on their appearance, and rewarded their patience with a 6-song closer. It had seemed, before the performance of their penultimate number, that Hook wanted to depart once more in the style of a second encore appearance, but instead powered through the final minutes of the set, upping the crowd’s dynamite energy that had boiled over for “She’s Lost Control” with frantic performances of “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” to finally bring an end to the night.

No language, just sound, that's all we need know.

No language, just sound, that's all we need know.

While definitely a fan of the wild and manic punk energy that I beheld at the band’s performance of Unknown Pleasures, this night once again solidified to me the belief that Closer is a magnificent opus of darkness and beauty, and a painful reminder of what might have come from Joy Division in the years to follow. I also thoroughly believe that the time between their 2010 tour and tonight’s return to San Francisco has helped to bring new life and assertiveness to Peter Hook and The Light, who carry all of the energy and spirit of Joy Division over three decades after the band’s tragic separation, but also establish themselves as masterful musicians in their own right. It also shows that the love and devotion of their fans is as timeless as the music itself, and that their energy and praise will remain for, perhaps, three more decades from this day. We could all feel it, and so could Peter, who parted from the stage with the most wonderful message that you could bestow to your fans: “Thank you so much for this evening. You have made an old man very, very happy and proud.”

Peter Hook and the Light's setlist

Peter Hook and the Light's setlist (NOTE: "She's Lost Control" was played instead of "Ice Age".)

 All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

racecar September 19, 2011 at 4:38 am

I had a great time at the show in NYC. The set list was amazing and they sounded great live, my favorites were Isolation, Heart & soul, Decades, & Atmosphere.After the show I was Lucky enough to go backstage and meet Peter Hook and took some pictures and got some autographs.

Here is the pic of the Venue

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Here is a pic of the setlist.

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Here is Hook signing some autographs for me.

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This is a little souvineer that I bought for myself at the show for $20, which is not bad at all, usually they are $30

joonbug.com/media/uAs9fMYpFNL/peter-hook-030_.jpg

Sorry that I could not take any pictures during the show, because my camera sucks in the dark.

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