Monday, June 27, 2005

Wireless for sound

It felt like we were cheating, and looking at the cross over between the two line-ups at the Glastonbury and Wireless festivals, it was. Even the usually anodyne newspaper diary dates put apologetic inverted commas around the word festival when referring to Wireless.

Firstly, Wireless was in Hyde Park central London, it doesn’t run on concurrent nights and it was suffocated with corporate branding (02 and Nokia principally). Hell, we even had our dinner at a nearby Pizza Express rather than noshing on a hotdog made of lips, bums and chicken’s ears. Putting it on the same weekend as Europe’s largest (and most proper) of festivals left it feeling like Glasto’s evil deformed twin brother.

It is probably for this reason that we simply referred to it as ‘The New Order gig’. Rain meant we avoided the line-up’s very long tail… we caught Moby playing music from adverts, but missed the one single types; Graham Coxon, The Bravery, Fischerspooner et al for a Fiorentina and coke.

If you were to draw lines between Peter ‘Oooky’ Hook, Stephen Morris and the late Ian Curtis they would meet at Bernard Sumner. Sumner is Everyman, part poet, part posturing rock star, part plumber. Oooky has pinned his “Bass Mechanic” icon to the floor with six inch nails; he still plays his bass two inches from the floor – something he originally did because Joy Division’s equipment was so awful he could only hear himself if he played down where his amp was. He still has the straggly rock star hair, he’s still stick thin. He’s a little weather beaten, but he looks and acts pretty much the same as he ever did. “Fooking ‘ell, it’s a fookin’ forty year old mosh pit, fookin’ grow up” chastised the 49-year-old bass player looking down on the mass of middle aged men with Sumner-esque shot back and sides.

Like their crowd, Sumner has gain weight, got older and becomes an embarrassment to his kids. When I saw New Order about ten years ago he stood stock still as he has in all the other film I’ve seen of him. Part cool, part terrified. Now, however, his shackles are off and he puffs his cheeks out out, purses his lips, turns purple and dances like your dad at a disco.

Festivals are so prevalent nowadays it’s much easier for big bands to satisfy their album promoting commitments by shifting from one festy crowd to another (New Order played on Saturday at Glasto) rather than doing their own tour. It means, however, that there is more licence to play a greatest hits set. Play safe, not everyone has come to see you; hit, hit, hit.

This is not to criticise, you don’t get to see these bands often enough to risk an experimental jazz jam session packed full of rare b-sides. We’ll leave that to Babyshambles and the kids who go to see them. I’ve done that stuff; seeing Radiohead at Kingston University a week after their debut single was released, Oasis in Brighton shortly after Definitely Maybe was released (and the after-show party), but for every iconic moment there are ten Sultans of Ping, Scorpio Risings and Flook playing 10 minutes for Radio 1 before going off. Gimme good product.

And that’s exactly what we got, hit after hit after hit from both the New Order and Joy Division back catalogues. True Faith, Crystal, Temptation, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Transmission, Love Vigilantes. It was safe and predictable programming from a driving, varied and adventurous back catalogue.

They ended with a shambolic rendition of Blue Monday, fighting technical problems to ensure that all the important bits were included at some point though not necessarily in the right order. Bernard sang about ships in harbours and shallow bays three or four times as he tried to three point turn himself out of a tight cul-de-sac. Hooky just played on relentless waiting for others to catch up. Then they left, Hooky carefully placed his low strung base on its stand and made for stage right. His rock starring complete for another night, as he disappeared from view a little girl, his daughter, grabbed him by the hand and the two disappeared off, presumably for a story and bed.


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