New Order Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver BC, July 8

New Order Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver BC, July 8
Photo: Steve Louie
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It hasn't exactly been a smooth chunk of years for New Order. Amongst breakups, reunions, botched reissues and bouts of Alzheimer's, there's been the very public and very ugly fallout with iconic four-stringer Peter Hook. On top of all that, the UK vets haven't released a proper new studio album since 2005, edging them ever closer to full-on "nostalgia act" status. Yet all that seemed to matter little at Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Theatre, where a teeming mass of New Order fanatics gathered for a night of songs both old and, every so often, new.

Starting things off on a moody note, the band edged into the night slowly with the instrumental Low-Life creeper "Elegia," setting a precedent that the group were going to lay on the classics good and thick. In its wake came a barrage of favourites, as the five-piece of Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, along with Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman, checked off tracks like "Ceremony," "Blue Monday," "Bizarre Love Triangle," "5 8 6," "Your Silent Face," "Regret" and "The Perfect Kiss" (complete with frog croak samples, no less). In fact, the set list wasn't so different than that of a few years ago, with the whole thing turning into a greatest-hits sort of evening.

Despite the omission of Hook's onstage energy, New Order amped up their guitar grit considerably, often trading their smoother, more synth-based style for something a bit meatier. And if the band were ever too stationary for comfort, there were always the perfectly synced visuals to keep you entertained, filtering out images of everything from cascading diamonds, exploding pill canisters and intergalactic wormholes to night-lit cityscapes, crystal-blue seas and a cloaked jawa or two.

Amongst all the hits, New Order were at their best when they stretched out the now-familiar tracks with extended instrumental passages, getting looser with the arrangements on "Age of Consent" and "Temptation," a track that onstage worked in Lou Reed's immortal "Street Hassle" melody, a sharp spike of emotion and even a shirtless stage invader.

And as for those new tracks, Sumner and co. brought out the promising "Singularity," a driving track recently premiered in South America that fared much better in the flesh than via dodgy iPhone captures, and "Plastic," a synth-fuelled newbie that toned down the guitar heroics for a crunchy Moroder-disco vibe.

However, the show wasn't without its issues. Blame it on the theatre-like setting or the fact that it was a Tuesday, but Sumner didn't always have the best luck instilling enthusiasm in the generally stoic crowd; often you felt like the 58-year-old frontman was the only one dancing out there, and things got borderline awkward during "True Faith" when his repeated attempts at igniting clap-alongs failed at every turn. It also didn't help that the band were met with a house sound that was far from pristine, with Sumner's vocals often getting lost in the mix as you struggled to make out the words.

That said, much was forgiven by show's end, which capped the night with a Joy Division mini-tribute. Sure, Sumner can't exactly deliver the same ghostly baritone of the late Ian Curtis, but hearing "Transmission," "Atmosphere" and a New Order-fied reimaging of "Isolation" was hard to beat.

"It's quite a good song to end a set with," Sumner said as he introduced the closing "Love Will Tear Us Apart," and you'd have been hard pressed to find anyone who disagreed.