It was fitting, in a week where big beasts have made their weight felt, that the giants of post-punk Brit-rock should make their live comeback. Famed for doing things in style, New Order returned to the stage in a stylish theatre in a city neighbouring their Manchester homes. Even so, the speakers were emblazoned with the legend "Salford Rules", reminding the audience that, on the eve of the release of their first album in eight years, the group are still firmly tied to their roots.
It was estimated that half of the 1,200 crowd were on the guest list. What the partisan audience experienced was a totally new New Order, with the long-serving keyboard player, Gillian Gilbert, absent on child-minding duties, the line-up was boosted by the former Smashing Pumpkin, Billy Corgan, on guitar, and the former Marion member, Phil Cunningham, on guitar and keyboards.
Radiohead may currently hold the position that was once New Order's natural habitat on rock's cutting edge. But, from the opening "Atmosphere", a song from their former incarnation as Joy Division, dedicated to their recently deceas- ed manager, Rob Gretton, it was obvious the group were back to reclaim lost ground. The three-pronged guitar attack made its presence felt on "Slow Jam", the first of several songs from the new album, Get Ready. With Peter Hook, still looking like a man who runs a successful haulage company, unleashing fearsome bass detonations, even the crowd's unfamiliarity with the new songs was banished.
Hidden behind his hat brim, Corgan proved to be the antithesis of the flashy American rock star on sabbatical. But his frothy glam harmonies helped elevate the new single, "Crystal", to an urgent and impassioned plane.
Understandably, the crowd's euphoria was reserved for impressively retuned favourites and oddities from the band's 21-year history. "Regret" turned the hall into a sea of arm-waving, air-punching, boot-stomping abandonment.
Similarly, "Love Vigilantes", with the singer, Bernard Sumner, doubling on harmelodica, proved a magnificent blend of warmth and anger. Indeed, unusually garrulous between songs, Sumner seems to have discovered a deeper connection to these back-catalogue songs since the group's reportedly shambolic last performance on New Year's Eve at Manchester's Nymex Arena.
On another old Joy Division song, "Isolation", the expanded line-up brought a density and teeming claustrophobia that provided a bristling counterpoint to the lyrics.
With "Your Silent Face", a song they hadn't played for 15 years, the remarkable edifice created by both the group's mighty sound and the mind-boggling light show was overwhelming. Audience member Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream chose not to go on stage to join in on "Rock the Shack", his guest contribution to the new album. But his appearance would probably have made little difference to the crowd. This is New Order's manor – two guest performers were made welcome, a third might have been pushing it.
A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paperReuse content