Did you ever play that game as a kid, where you would choose which people would play in your dream supergroup? Tom Verlaine on guitar, Simon Gallup on bass, John Bonham on drums, Kathleen Hanna on vocals, and so on. The roster was an endless list of music porn, complete with unrealistic performance expectations and exaggerated talents — in reality, it would never work.
Well, surprise! Peter Hook tried it anyway!
Friday night, the Metro hosted Peter Hook and the Light playing Joy Division’s “Closer” in its entirety. Hook, a founding member of Joy Division, was responsible in some part for the aforementioned album, but for some reason the performance was somewhat disingenuous. For one, the album was the swan song of the oft-hallowed songwriter Ian Curtis, so it felt as if a direct one-to-one presentation of this masterwork should be, in some way, a tribute to him. Still, as Hook sang the dirge-like lyrics of their original tortured songwriter, there was no echo of sympathy or memorial. When the set opened with songs from Joy Division’s earliest releases instead of with the first track on “Closer,” my suspicions were flagged rather abruptly.
Oh, and the surprise — Billy Corgan (of The Smashing Pumpkins) appeared mid-way through the first encore to offer vocals on two songs that seemed to define my every teenage existential crisis (Transmission and Love Will Tear Us Apart). Hearing the whiny howl normally reserved for “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” in place of Curtis’s, or even Hook’s attempt at Curtis’s, signature baritone was bizarre to say the least, and left me further torn.
If two of your high school heroes converge on stage ten feet in front of you, it’s hard not to dissolve into rampant fanboy-ism, howling like some
cartoon wolf who’s seen the leggy blonde across the room. Still, it sure was hard to genuinely and sincerely appreciate Hooky and the Light’s work as revivers of the Joy Division legacy. Hell, Hook barely even played the bass until Corgan came onstage — he deferred almost all of the thundering riffs to second bassist Jack Bates. That in itself loomed onstage as something of a rip-off — seeing the guy next to Hooky playing the riffs that changed the indie music scene forever is just as satisfying as watching a Joy Division tribute band in a dive bar in the suburbs, which is to say, it isn’t.
I tried. I really did. How often do you get to see the convergence of two artists from two different cultural contexts, eras, continents, and limitless other circumstances? In fact, I’m fairly certain these two were only connected somewhere in my head as I sat through Algebra 2, brooding silently over polynomials. But after all of the surprises and the celebrations and the instant camaraderie in the crowd, it all just felt empty. Like we were giving in to the nostalgia, whatever the cost.
But maybe I’m being a little too bitter about this all. Cheap fun is still fun after all. Let’s face it: Peter Hook is no Ian Curtis, just like Jack Bates is no Peter Hook. And Billy Corgan — who knows where the hell he comes in to all this. But in spite of these facts, I still managed to have a reasonable amount of fun listening to a classic album that influenced my and countless others’ lives. I hadn’t found my faith in The Light, but I was singing along to the gospel.
And then I saw the music stand.