Thursday, April 26, 2007

480 words about New Order's "Age of Consent" live '84

Well, playing shirtless is always ill-advised. It seems like a cheap rock star move. And looking at Bernard I can't help but think about how that guitar strap would chafe his pasty bare skin. And if he's sweating (if he's not, why'd he take the shirt off?) and if that strap is leather, then it's gonna be a slimy, smelly mess by the time they get to the "Ceremony" encore.

And he's wearing white pants too. Always a mistake in my book. I hope, at least, that it's not past Labor Day 'cause he might be engaging in an even bigger fashion faux pas. But he's a Brit performing in Spain, so I guess different rules apply anyway. If you look closely, below the belt, you'll notice he's making rhythmic pelvic thrusts to keep the beat.

Three cheers for Steven fuckin' Morris. He's an absolute powerhouse on the drums. He's the rock steady counterweight to Barney Sumner/Albrecht/Dicken's shaky antics. I get tired just watching Morris. And the unrelenting nature of his beat is accentuated by the synth tom pad/treatment. Each hit sounds sort of like a labored exhalation, sort of like when Glass Joe gets hit on Mike Tyson's Punch-Out.

Peter Hook doesn't get nearly the amount of close-up time that he deserves for this song. I mean the man flawlessly plays the melody on his bass while half the time Bernard is just standing there getting prepared to play his guitar, or just letting it hang there Elvis style as he sings. A certain tentative nervousness pervades all of Mr. Sumner/Albrecht/Dicken's performances. He never seems to be comfortable or having any fun I often get the sense that getting him on stage is like pulling teeth. He can't seem to multitask (i.e. play guitar AND sing at the same time.) And based on the other New Order live clips I've see on youtube, he only hits the right notes with a 60-70% accuracy. Sure he can play guitar better than me, but he's a professional I don't get the sense that any of his parts are even that complicated. Peter Hook is usually the lead "guitar" and Barney just gets to do rhythmic flourishes. Admittedly, though, Bernard's angry near-Gang of Fourish guitar slashing at 2:38-2:54 is quite effective and indispensable to this version's success.

Being a Deadhead ("laugh it up, fuzzball") I can't help but compare Bernard to Bob Weir. Both seem to play with a consistently tentative approach despite having played some of their material for 10,15,20 years. Both seem to be a bit nervous trying to fill the shoes of dead bandmates (Ian and Jerry respectively) and seem like the weakest links in their bands. You can see it in Bernard and Bobby's faces. They don't quite know what's going on around them. You always expect them to turn to their bandmates with a bemused look and say "hey, woah, what key is this one in again?"

A good example of this apparent incompetence is a live 1984 in-studio version of "Age of Consent" on youtube.

Bernard completely blows the guitar intro. He starts hitting wrong notes and then just gives up...though he later makes up for it with his raw, passionate scratchy guitar solo around 2:01. Again, people make mistakes, and Bernard's a better guitar player than I. But come on! The guitarist of the band who released the best-selling 12" single in British history ("Blue Monday" 1982) should at least be able to play guitar with 90-95% accuracy (then again, does "Blue Monday" even have a guitar part? Apparently not, as is evidenced by this uber casual, passionless performance also from the '84 in-studio:

...I guess it was originally a radio-only broadcast...) But occasionally, Bernard's tentative, introspective, faltering performance style is an asset. It's one of the main reasons I love this 1981 version of "Ceremony" (in addition to Steven Morris' ridiculously powerful drumming.)

"Ceremony" is Ian's last song. So a year after his suicide, it seems fitting that Bernard should be mournfully uncomfortable singing it. Yet since it's a beautiful piece of melancholy and Ian's last testament, it does seem like Bernard has a certain obligation to sing it.

Unfortunately, there's not much to say about Gillian's keyboard part in the Barcelona "Age of Consent" except she's too low in the mix and completely inaudible during her one close up at 0:57. Why is it that keyboards are either blaringly loud or inaudible in live performances?

Randomly: I'd love to see Hooky and Morris face off against Sly and Robbie in an ultimate bass and drum new wave vs. dub battle for sonic supremacy. Bernard could just put down the guitar on a short skirt, grab some pom-poms and stick to the sidelines as a cheerleader

No comments: