New Order w/ DJ Whitney Fierce @ BMO Harris Pavilion, Summerfest
July 3, 2014
The inclusion of synth-pop
legends New Order on this year’s Summerfest lineup generated a lot
of well-justified excitement, which should’ve been tempered
slightly by the fact that they’d be playing the BMO Harris
Pavilion, an obnoxious addition to the grounds that, beyond sullying
the Big Gig’s egalitarian first-come, first-served system by having
people pay for premium seating, does away with one of the only other
good things about seeing shows at Summerfest, that they start when
they’re scheduled to, by introducing openers. That may not seem bad
on paper, but when an opening act, in this case DJ Whitney Fierce,
plays for nearly two
which would never happen in almost any other live music setting, it
becomes blatantly obvious that they’re attempting to manipulate you
into spending more time there than you need to. Feeling had isn’t a
great way to go into a concert, but thankfully New Order was epic
enough to make you forget all about that for the time being.
Lest you think they were stalling headliners until after the fireworks, the fireworks had just started when the band, which hasn’t played Milwaukee in 25 years, took the stage and ripped into “Crystal” from their career-reviving 2001 release Get Ready, with the grand finale coming five or six songs into a set that seemed scientifically designed to please diehard fans. Not only did it cover all of their most time-tested hits, “Ceremony,” “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “Temptation,” “Your Silent Face” and, of course, the mega-selling, decade-defining “Blue Monday” among them, it also showed off some brand new material, like the rocking “Plastic,” which, if lead singer Bernard Sumner is to believed, was performed live for only the second time ever Thursday. The new stuff, however scant, was a welcome sign that they weren’t simply trading on their past success, especially in light of the recent, very public insults coming from founding bassist Peter Hook, who didn’t return when the band reformed (for the second time) in 2011.
Regardless of any of the behind-the-scenes name-calling, the band sounded great right on through to the special, much buzzed-about encore, which found them performing a pair of Joy Division songs. Though they’ve been working them into sets for years now, it still had the potential to feel a little bit crass, but, overall, between the song selection, the doleful “Atmosphere” and the iconic “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” and the sincere, reverent delivery, it was a fitting, and rather moving, tribute to Ian Curtis, whose tragic suicide in 1980 led Sumner, Hook and drummer Stephen Morris to regroup and form New Order along with synth player Gillian Gilbert. All together it was a satisfyingly lengthy set, almost as long as the interminable, utterly superfluous opener you had to slog through to get to it. Ultimately, the show was well worth enduring whatever stupid annoyance Summerfest has to offer, but it would have been far better at any other stage or, ideally, somewhere else altogether.