Sunday, 3 June 2012


Bob Mould, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 1 June 2012; Peter Hook And The Light, Oxford O2 Academy, Saturday 2 June 2012

A good old fashioned double-header, and what made this one even more notable was that both gigs were start-to-finish interpretations of classic albums from seminal artists in the rock pantheon, by key figures within both bands in question. Sugar’s agenda-setting 1992 release “Copper Blue”, the template for pop-core post-grunge hard-edged yet irresistibly melodic US rock, influencing such notables as Foo Fighters, and delivered by Sugar vocalist and inspiration Bob Mould; then “Unknown Pleasures”, Joy Division’s 1979 debut, a visceral rock experience widely recognised as one of the greatest albums ever, spawning a thousand dark-overcoated and deep-voiced imitators, and played by original Joy Division (and subsequent New Order) bassist Peter Hook and his new band The Light. A mouth-watering double; which album would wear their age most gracefully and come out on top?

First, it’s Bob. Amazingly, this was the first gig in 2012 I’d been to with Rachel; I’d clocked up 13 other gigs since she last accompanied me, to the Vaccines in December 2011. We ruminated on this sorry state of affairs on a swift drive oop the Smoke, after dropping the kids off at grandmas for a sleepover, enduring a slight parking mare but dumping the motor along the Uxbridge Road about ¼ to 8. Hit the venue and got stung for Rach’s pint (£4.30! Ouch!), then found a good spot on the floor, stage left, immediately running into old colleague Shaun Pisavadia and his brother! Caught up before and during openers Cloud Nothings, who initially kicked up a good punky fuss, but then degenerated into tuneless and tedious instrumental thrash, as aimless in its’ way as that horrible Sunburned Hand Of The Man set, supporting Copey at the Lyric those many moons ago! Someone should have told them they’re onstage rather than in their rehearsal space; either that or to write more than 3 songs if they’re performing onstage!

This was my first Bob gig in over 6 ½ years, and nearly 20 years since I’d first been subjected to the incandescent brilliance of Sugar, having seen their UK debut in September 1992, when “Copper Blue” was shiny and new. He and his 3-piece band were clearly in no mood to fuck around, taking the stage promptly at 9 to a rapturous welcome from this packed and predominantly male crowd, and plunging immediately into the thunderous opening riff to “The Act We Act”, an earth-shattering opener. Bob looked mean, muscular and magnificent, bespectacled and with a dusting of white adorning his goatee, resembling a gym-rat Santa on his Summer vacations. Only he’d brought the presents tonight; with nary a pause for breath, he tore into “Copper Blue” with an elemental ferocity, prowling the stage like a manic lion in his cage. I revelled in the glorious cacophony of noise, the perfect storm of rage and melody, a controlled collision of hardcore and irresistible, euphoric tunefulness that this classic album delivered, over and over. “Changes” was a raw, emotional highlight, delivered in Bob’s deliciously dark, deep growl, then a HHH-style water-spout from Bob preceded “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”, brilliantly robust and the best thing on offer tonight, although almost topped by a wide-eyed and rampant “Fortune Teller”, as Bob really warmed to his task.

The climax of “Copper Blue”’s closer, “Man On The Moon” saw a lengthy, reverential ovation, before Bob announced, “that was the past, here’s the future,” introducing, “a bunch of new stuff,” notable amongst being a raw, bluesy “Star Machine” and a raucous, hard rocking “The Dissent”. Them new apples don’t fall far from the Bob Mould tree, but hey, he’s too old to be really diversifying now, right? A clutch of Husker Du numbers closed out the set, fast and hard and unfortunately hindered by the sound, which after a good start had been a bit iffy and indistinctly trebly throughout, a thrashy “Celebrated Summer” finishing things off.

I didn’t quite catch the Robin Zander reference from Bob at the start of first encore, “Needle Hits E”, but wandered down the front for the finale, the brilliant, breathtaking “Makes No Sense At All” (let’s face it, you could be dead and still not resist singing along to that one), before Bob, effusive and clearly having a complete ball all night, stood awhile taking in the applause before leaving. Wow. Poor sound couldn’t detract from the fact he’d given his all, and did this timeless album more than justice tonight.

Follow that, Hooky! After a relaxing day without the kids (still at grandmas) I set off whilst listening to the England footy on the radio, parking up behind Tescos and hitting the downstairs Academy room at 7.45, unfortunately in time to catch some of support, Da London Undaground. They were terrible; a white boy gangsta funk rap act, coming across for me like they’d been rummaging through Stereo MC’s reject pile. The Al Pacino/ Chuck Norris/ Bruce lee slideshow showed their aspirations, and was considerably more entertaining than their performance, although as an old punk, I enjoyed the vocalist’s sentiments on his anti-Jubilee and Olympics t-shirt.

The place, dead early doors, filled up considerably but was still only about 2/3 full when Hooky and his band of young charges took the stage at 8.20, to the refrain of the Pogues’ “Dirty Old Town” mashed, oddly, into Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express”. I found a place front centre, a couple of rows back, quite easily, as Hooky introduced the opener, the embryonic growl of “At A Later Date” as being, “for a very determined young man, Tony”. Hmmm...

Joy Division, for me, were part of the heady rush of bands I embraced during the rush of my post-punk mid-teen discovery in the early 80’s, along with the likes of early Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs and my favourites, Echo And The Bunnymen. While I totally enjoyed Joy Division’s dour, primal and bleak vision, and of course took the likes of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Atmosphere” to my heart, I couldn’t help thinking (almost heretical thought coming up here) that had vocalist and original tortured soul Ian Curtis not been lost to us in such an untimely way, would they have been anything more than an interesting footnote in 80’s post-punk, a cult concern in the same vein as The Wild Swans, Scars and Comsat Angels, all bands I’d loved equally to, or more than, Joy Division?

Be that as it may, I was not here to pay homage to the legend, but more to enjoy the musical legacy. And this came thick and fast; “No Love Lost”, staccato post punk, was an early highlight, before the metronomic hook of “Digital”, played fast and edgily by the Light, with Hooky’s vocals by now coming to the fore. Ah yes, Peter Hook, the epitome of taciturn non-communicativeness, took lead vocals, and while initially limited, as if feeling his way into this unfamiliar mode of expression, by this and the subsequent, brilliant “Disorder”, he was deep and resonant, imperiously intoning his lines as if it was his absolute divine right to do so. “Disorder”, featuring the original low-slung descending bassline, heralded the start of the “Unknown Pleasures” run-through, but this was topped a few numbers later by the widescreen drama of “New Dawn Fades”, moody, creepy and prescient. “A loaded gun won’t set you free…”.

This merged into the whip-lash rhythm of “She’s Lost Control” and the punkier growl of “Shadowplay”, before a lengthy, desolate “I Remember Nothing” closed out the set. However we had encores aplenty; the first featured the tumbling, almost tribal drumbeat of “Dead Souls” and the startling synth snap of “Isolation”, before the sombre, symphonic elegy of “Decades” built to a final dramatic crescendo and the band took another breather (necessary by this point – Hooky, who’d put a lot of himself into the performance, was blowing hard by now). This however preceded the inevitable, and fantastic, singalong “Transmission”, and of course the all-time classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, dedicated by an effusive Hooky to, “everybody here, God bless us all”. Simply awe-inspiring. A final “Ceremony” drew a redemptive evening to a close, at which point Hooky took a deserved lengthy ovation. Fuck the “legend”; Joy Division were ultimately a great band with many great songs and a few utterly astonishing ones, and those, as per Bob’s performance last night, were done full justice by Peter Hook tonight.

So, overall, which album came out on top? You know, thanks to Bob and Hooky, it’s too close to call…

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