At the risk of eliciting a chorus of jaded groans: Yes, Peter Hook & the Light, led by the bassist for the influential Joy Division, performed a rousing rendition of the post-punk swan song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” last night at the Bluebird in the first of two encores. Did you think they wouldn’t?
The surprise was that the revered hit may have been the worst song of the otherwise iconic, appropriate, set. Maybe Hook meant it literally when he introduced the song as “One that’s meant to leave you with a smile.”
Over the course of 90 minutes, Hook and his much younger sidemen may have won over even the most cynical, jaded post-punk hipster as they played the entire seminal Joy Division album “Unknown Pleasures,” bookended by works that spanned the band’s early career, including a few from their early incarnation as Warsaw.
Though Hook’s reputation as a difficult character preceded him — furthered by depictions of him as a whining 20-something in movies like “Closer” and “24-Hour Party People” and the well-documented feud with New Order frontman Bernard Sumner — his dedication to these classic songs quickly eschewed any of that characterization. Aside from a tendency to scream out in an off-kilter (yet strangely fitting) exuberance, Hook played a strong, tragic Ian Curtis.
As he thumped the echo-laden and recognizable bassline to start out “No Love Lost,” any hint of his cynical rep melted almost immediately. As the band tore through “Leaders of Men,” “Glass” and “Digital,” any doubt in their ability to pull off such treasured songs subsided. Then they started into the tracklist for “Unknown Pleasures” in earnest, and didn’t stop until the last, tortured strains of “I Remember Nothing,” by which time the packed in audience appeared completely rapt.
If this tour’s intention was to imitate Joy Division, Peter Hook and the Light made the mark. If, on another hand, the idea was to re-introduce a vital strain of post-punk to new generations of hipsters, the band cleared it by a country mile.
And yet, alongside the sad, campy version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the band’s tendency to play the songs too damn well tarnished an otherwise well-shined performance. One of Joy Division’s most endearing factors was an aloof nature when it came to sounding “professional,” a product of the punk aesthetic. This set favored the slick professional sound — too smooth, well-mixed and perfect — to come across quite as realistically as it might have.
Hook deserves a nod — if not for returning to Joy Division’s roots and coming up with something exceedingly solid and well met, then at least for not allowing the feud and his reputation to keep these songs locked up for another 30 years. They still resonate on record — live, they’re even more vital.