Peter Hook & The Light

Peter Hook & The Light at the Danforth Music Hall, Tuesday November 29, Toronto

Peter Hook and the Light take the stage at Toronto’s best, most special and most fun venue, early, at 8:20, and with no opener. They’ve made a good number of Toronto stops in their just four years touring Hooky’s Joy Division and New Order music, with increasing buzz each time. In a tremendous reversal of what a lot of new music today does, or gets to do, Hook’s new work grows all by itself through authenticity and real, old fashioned, word-of-mouth. It doesn’t hurt that the music was developed over the last great musical era, in the most fertile place in all of Europe, by the most innovative band who was unafraid to experiment and take risks, even after early success and terrible loss under another name.

But it’s not name recognition or love of this iconic music that’s made this tour a sellout, conquering US city after US city like a modern day Viking before a lovely finish in Montreal and then, here, the dessert: Toronto, where someone deserving is welcomed like a god for bloody once.  Hook’s performance honed over more than 30 dates in two months is utter musical reinvention and reclamation, the purity and clarity of stripping down something monstrous- a worldwide famous household name brand- to its essence by a genius with an ear unlike any other, different than the other geniuses out there wielding an ax, but no less a guitar god than whoever in Metal is so often named. It’s now Peter Hook’s reading of New Order and Joy Division that matters. Like Johnny Marr’s recent solo efforts, it is much more these days than the sum of its parts was, and better by miles than the competition. It’s streamlined, a killer beast, majestic, lithe, the top of the food chain, rogue, punk. It’s punk again. It’s anti-establishment. And it sings.

We are told that Peter Hook and the Light, made up of members of one-time side-project Monaco with the addition of Hook’s son Jack Bates, have done 400 gigs as of tonight. More than New Order did in 40 years. Not just shade, this fact is deeply significant. It illustrates the point about stripping down, packing light, and taking only what you can carry. Like Renton escaping his groundhog day life at the end of Trainspotting. The stage is spare, no banner or flag, everything heaped in the center, musicians around it, nothing frivolous or decorative. (How often does a venue staffer say that it was an easy set up, when a legend is in town?) It looks like a jam in someone’s house. Hooky’s house.

Trust me when I tell you, Toronto doesn’t let loose unless they mean it. Tonight was the wildest, most open -hearted night of strangers we’ve ever seen, and been part of, in all these years. That I can ever remember. It was, in fact, the closest three hours to Shiiine we’ll ever find here. And all of us there helped make it so, led by the visionary co-creator and bassist of the best album of singles of the last 40 years, played live, cut for cut. After just a few minutes break, a tour of Joy Division’s works, music that demands to be played and heard, is played for another full hour. No one dares to budge. No one will succeed in pushing to the front now. Tonight, those at the front have earned it.

New Order live was never like this; beholden to machines, maybe, on big, cold, faraway stages, in the crummy sports arenas of our lo-fi youth, something sterile in the mix got in the way of the beauty of their creations, there were too many cooks. But this is raw, alive, sweaty, loud, uncut rock and roll, unashamed love and life itself. And even on the bigger stages will remain so, now-we can attest. We know every note, every beat, and yet it’s better than the records, it jumps off the records, and it simply shorts out whatever circuitry is left in the mockery of music in this era of the digital file, in the homes and heads of people who have no stereos anymore. We betrayed ourselves for pocket convenience. We’ve been conned. We betrayed our art, our own gods, this. Guys, we have to go back.

Our fandom, here in Toronto, of New Order, was strong, but very remote indeed. Toronto in the eighties felt to us like (and was) an island far away from the world we loved, Britain, where we sometimes got music a few years too late. But we’d caught up by 1987, and you see, when we got it, it stayed with us forever and forever and forever.

It is 25 years later.

We are telling people we are newly acquainted with, good, fun, interesting people, who’ve been at the gig in different places around the happiest room we can ever remember, alone, together, about our trip down to Shiiine On Weekender in the UK to see Peter Hook last year. The Kaleidoscope is flipped. For this night alone, Toronto is the center of the world. And a corner of England and a festival that, in this group, only we know about is a faraway, unknown thing. 

Peter Hook and the Light know about Shiiine,  though, they (very much) helped make it historic, and it was. He’s headlining a two night mini-cruise that’s the next Shiiine project, with two different set lists for the most devoted, in March. We know our place, but feel part of a larger Shiiine Family that extends all the way to Hooky himself, something unbreakable and special. Something new, tailor made for this new era of iconic tunes. We can’t help but tell our friends, only late at night, about what we saw and felt, there, in the afterglow of what has happened here tonight.

But the truth, that I only dare whisper to my partner and my Shiiine friends in private messages is that tonight is even better. The rest is all agog stunned incoherence, like we felt when Marr came in 2014.

Once the gig ends about 11:00 we move the night to a nearby pub we frequent for vinyl night. This is among our patch of haunts now in a new life we’ve made, and we love it. We spin our own copy of Low-Life for ourselves and everyone else with us, or not with us who’ve come rushing in for late night drinks we don’t need but conversation and understanding that we all do, will bank for regular chilly Toronto days with our blank runway stares that we wear all the rest of the year. We run into the girl who caught Peter Hook’s T-shirt. She fought a few guys for it, she tells me. I love that. Later, when the socializing is over and the night goes silent, last up as usual, it will be teary stillness and late night secret messages to early risers across an ocean, who understand this. Even though this music has never left our lives, something ricochets back to age sixteen with Substance 1987 (/2016) tonight, to that mess of tangled, knotted Christmas lights inside me. To hit the ground at 4 am, full of operatic regret, and write to a faraway friend, just daring them to respond: “It’s the sound of a time that never happened. Like the world was our oyster. It wasn’t. It sounds like fuel enough to conquer the world. I didn’t.” He rises to this unreasonableness. So, never happy, I press on “this is decidedly anti-nostalgia. I am course-correcting that stupid girl-” Well, I’m sorry, but that’s the power of music like this. From this source. Across an ocean. Across 25 years. Across a lifetime. Across the human heart. Beautifully stubborn. Evergreen. Essential. Unstoppable.

Up, down, turn around, please don’t let me hit the ground. Tonight I think I’ll walk alone, I’ll find my soul as I go home.

But two hours earlier, just before we leave, still up, never down, the bartender/DJ stops us. Wait! Wait! Don’t go. He’s young, encouraging, he started this vinyl thing last summer and he is interested in history, in histories, in music, in liner notes,  gets the wonderful absurdity in Kenny Rogers’ trajectory and the deep, obscure religion that is Elvis, celebrates with us that early period Tom Petty is deeply unsung, and much more, in a hodge podge of a roommate’s vinyl, with newer, classy items handpicked just lately, welcoming all to join in, free of judgement, erasing the usual biases buried in music snobbery; in near-downtown bars. He takes us back to the happiness of discovery & sharing a listener experience that was so important once, and the funny little details that only happen in the artwork of vinyl records of certain ages and origins. In people. Even in us. He mans the whole bar, a kind and funny word for everyone, and runs to catch the skips that happen even on the overpriced “mint condition” vinyl we all buy nearby, that we can’t afford but need to save. That we have no way to play, except for here and now. I wonder if he knows about the Peter Saville pure works of art that the New Order sleeves are, probably, he does.

He gives us hope; he brings his record player across town every single week on public transit. He wanted to go to Hooky, he gets it, but he had to work, he is needed. He stops us. He forgot to play it before, he was saving it- just today he picked up a Joy Division single of Love Will Tear Us Apart. We’ve never even held this single in our hands or seen it, and it’s from our own youth, when records were shared and special, when we thought we’d always have the friends whose bedroom floors we lounged on like cats, whose houses stood close to our own, mirrors, we imagined were our own, that have been demolished now, most cruelly, like a beating heart. In a glowing, vivid night that can simply not get any better, he plays it very loud at 2:30 a.m. just for us. We rattle apart like cheap speakers, we fly to pieces like wooden picture frames hung on finishing nails in first apartments, we feel like we’ll never be able to speak or write another word.

Words by Jacqueline Howell, gentle prodding and photos by Dave MacIntyre