Concert Review: New Order With Johnny Marr

Boulevard Pool At The Cosmopolitan, April 11

Before their show at the Cosmo, New Order was one of the least engaging live bands I’d seen. I last saw them live in their heyday—late 1987, following the release of Substance—and with the exception of Pater Hook, who wore his bass low on his body and hunched over like a caveman to play it, I’ve never seen a sheer personality void so perfectly embodied onstage. I mean, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert ate a fucking sandwich in the middle of the set. Sure, New Order 1987 could make the notes, but that hardly matters when said notes are produced by reanimated corpses.

Happily, New Order 2013 proved to be none of that. The band that played Vegas was engaged, solicitous and above all, joyful. Peter Hook is no longer in the band—replaced by Tom Chapman, who plays using Hook’s tuning and Neandrathal stance—but that’s a small price to pay for a band that actually delivers a full and satisfying set. They ripped through note-perfect versions of their hits (“Blue Monday,” “Regret”), their deep album cuts (“Love Vigilantes,” “World”), and even some Joy Division classics (“Atmosphere,” “Love Will Tear Us Apart”) with energy and brio. Vocalist and guitarist Bernard Sumner even danced a bit. They almost seemed a New Order tribute band, and it felt great to believe in them again.

Opener Johnny Marr inspired a different sort of belief. I’ve seen the former Smiths guitarist three times before now—with Modest Mouse, The Pretenders and, er, with The Smiths—but this was the first time he seemed a full-on rock star and not a divinely gifted shrinking violet. He performed songs from his solo album The Messenger and a trio of Smiths classics, including a transcendent version of “How Soon is Now,” with a confidence that bodes well for future solo work. His singing isn’t quite up to the level of his exquisite guitar playing, but with the other guy from the Smiths maybe calling it quits, he’ll do just fine.

One last note to Mssrs. Sumner and Marr: It wouldn’t have killed you to team up for at least one song by your supergroup, Electronic. But that was the only black mark on a deliriously great night of music. See you again in 30 years. ★★★★★