Live Review: New Order: 'This Might Be The Last Time We’re All Together'

16 March 2020 | 10:40 am | Andy Hazel

"Like a combination of Danceteria at its peak and watching the orchestra on the Titanic."

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Very occasionally, a concert will be much more than just a public performance of music. The songs of New Order have been woven into the lives of millions of people and to hear them played tonight, to a group who through bravery, passion or idiocy choose to cluster together as the sun sets on a long and mostly horrific summer, makes for an event that at times verges on apocalyptic rapture.

Throughout the night, from the camaraderie of the venue security and crowd, to the joyous dancing throughout the amphitheatre during Cut Copy’s twilight set, to REM’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) blasting through the sound system at the evening’s end, this felt like a combination of Danceteria at its peak and watching the orchestra on the Titanic. As Cut Copy’s Tim Hoey says at the close of their set, “This is the last gig we’re going to play for a while, so we’ve got to make it count.”

After visiting the hand sanitiser station on the way in, I am scolded by a friend for arriving too late to see Confidence Man whose set he describes with the gesture of a chef’s kiss. Cut Copy quickly evaporate any feelings of disappointment. The shimmering acoustic guitar and insistent bassline of Feel The Love booms through the venue and it is instantly apparent why they are the perfect band to be opening for New Order.

Cut Copy @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Photo by Joshua Braybrook.

Cut Copy quietly exist at the centre of the Venn diagram of indie rock and dance and, like the headliners, play a brand of ego-free stadium pop. Tonight’s set draws heavily from their 2008 album In Ghost Colours, which makes sense as it is one of the best Australian albums of the last 20 years. Sun God, from its follow up Zonoscope, is dedicated to the recently deceased DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall, and gives a release from the lymph-system workout that the rest of their set provides. 

Cut Copy @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Photo by Joshua Braybrook.

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The band also debut an unnamed new song whose rippling arpeggios and scything Blade Runner tones seem better suited to a Sunday morning comedown than a club on a Saturday night. It proves a perfect set-up for the closing duo of Lights & Music and Hearts On Fire whose choruses hit like a euphoric homecoming. “Please look after each other and thank you so much for being here,” says Toey as they make way for New Order’s busying road crew.

From the pitch darkness that envelopes the stadium, an instrumental version of the song Times Change plays as scenes from mid-20th century Melbourne life appear on the screens behind the stage. It’s a disarming move that shows just how British the city looked around the time the members of New Order were born.

“When we started out most bands were placing an emphasis on guitars and power chords at the time,” singer and guitarist Bernard Sumner told the BBC in the mid-90's documentary series Dancing In The Street. “We thought we’d place the emphasis on the drums.” But tonight, the band reverts back to its rock origins with many of the songs being guitar-driven. Right from set-openers Regret and Age Of Consent, songs are given arresting video projections that play out in triplicate on the back of the stage. Cityscapes and digital artwork blend to accentuate the songs' nostalgic power and sense of timelessness. It’s a recurring theme throughout the night, and one that empowers many, especially World (The Price Of Love) whose iconic music video featuring ageing rich holidaymakers adds layers to its themes.

New Order @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Photo by Joshua Braybrook.

Bespectacled drummer Stephen Morris, seems just as phenomenally metronomic as he was playing She's Lost Control on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1979. Gillian Gilbert remains a bastion of control and composure, the driver of so many of the band's best-known songs. Seeing this most unlikely couple, the core of this iconic band, playing this music with such utter precision is oddly moving.

Newer songs such as Restless and Plastic are all perfect examples of New Order's latest iteration, without bassist Peter Hook, and with guitarist and percussionist Phil Cunningham and bassist Tom Chapman. While it’s good to hear what these members bring, the band’s back catalogue is so rich and evocative that the newer songs seem like a wanton waste of priceless real estate. These less familiar inclusions also give the audience an opportunity to chat, bump elbows and laugh off any tension. 

New Order @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Photo by Joshua Braybrook.

“This might be the last time we’re all together,” says Sumner in one of his several interludes of chatting with the audience. “But let’s not dwell on that.” For years, people have found exaltation in songs like Bizarre Love Triangle, Blue Monday and Temptation.

Whether escaping the social ills of Thatcher’s Britain, when they were recorded, or amid the anxiety of the early stages of a global pandemic, it seems the greater the oppression, the greater the euphoria of the release. These songs, and especially the surprise encore of Joy Division’s Transmission, a last-minute replacement of Decades, offer this in a way few bands in few times could ever do. 

It’s the last time, oh it’s the last...time,” sings Sumner as the slashing guitars and arterial snare drums of Temptation ring out, closing the set. It’s an unforgettable moment, and one that many people tonight will hold on to during the uncertainty of the next few weeks. Tonight, New Order offered little that was uncertain, much that was prepared and far more than they could have predicted when they booked their show at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

New Order @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Photo by Joshua Braybrook.