New Order and tribute bands

Posted Thursday June 28, 2007 by John Gunders in |

I was watching a New Order concert on TV last night, recorded in New York a few years ago. The thing that struck me—aside from how little stage-presence they seemed to have—was the way in which influential bands have to deal with their fame.

In the early part of Robert Plant’s solo career he resolutely refused to play Led Zeppelin songs (much to the chagrin of many of his fans), claiming that that part of his life was over and people should move on. Other bands tour endlessly, trying to recapture the magic of their one hit, and sinking further into self-parody*.

Were it not for the brilliant 2001 release, Get Ready, New Order would fit into this latter category, but even so, living in the shadow of “Blue Monday” must make it difficult: they performed that song—as well as two or three Joy Division classics—but even with a bit of funky Kylie Minogue sampling at the beginning, it was a going-through-the-motions kind of performance.

Which brings me to my question: in spite of only minimal lineup changes since forming in 1980, is the band I watched in 2007 the same one that recorded “Blue Monday”?

My suspicion is that it is not. Even with the same personnel (sans Gillian Gilbert) the context, the history, the vibe even, are different to that of 1983. The song itself has a different meaning: in 1983 a slightly edgy, electro club hit; in 2003 a staple of “hits and memories” format FM radio. If all this is true, does that not make the 2007 version of New Order (just before they broke up last month) the ultimate New Order tribute band?

I’m reading the Shane Homan edited collection about tribute bands, and the views of the various authors seem to fall into two theories: the postmodern view that sees the phenomenon in terms of the “precession of simulacra” and those that point out that it is a safe commercial bet (obviously, I’m simplifying—most authors see both these aspects at work). It suggests that while Bernard Sumner can still write a great pop song, and musically they are still on top of their game, the band is really only trading on past glories, and this is probably because their audience doesn’t want new songs—they want to be able to say that they heard “Blue Monday” played by the original band.

And (question two) is this a bad thing? I still don’t know, but I need to make up my mind because I’m going to see The Cure in about three weeks, and I’m really hoping they play “10:15 on a Saturday Night” so that I can say I heard it performed by the actual band!

  • I’m ashamed to admit I was in the audience for a Deep Purple concert in Brisbane, circa 1985, when just before the final encore they “asked” the audience if they had any requests—“Smoke on the Water”, obviously, having not yet been played.

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