Feb 26, 2012

Movie of the Week - New Order at the National Ukrainian Home, Nov. 1981

Photo by Eugene Merinov: "Ian, are you there?" Bernard Sumner looks towards the sky at the Ukrainian National Home, Nov. 1981. For more photos from this gig, as well as the Peppermint Lounge, click here.
November 19, 1981 - New Order play an unlikely venue in New York's unassuming National Ukrainian Home, a second floor space over a Ukrainian restaurant at 2nd Avenue and 9th Street in NYC's East Village. It was either their tenth or eleventh North American gig following the previous years death of Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis. Lucky for us, Factory Records decided to film the show. And photographer Eugene Merinov was there to shoot it.

For the band, it was a week in which they blitzed the New York metropolitan area. The night before this show, they played The Ritz in Manhattan, and gigs would follow at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ, and back to NYC for the Peppermint Lounge. If I'm not  mistaken, it would also be the time their gear was stolen from their van parked in midtown Manhattan, as well as finding the band getting introduced to the exploding New York dance music scene at the time, courtesy of their NY-based booking agent Ruth Polsky, and some other in-the-know New Yorkers. This, of course, would be a huge factor in determining their future path in writing & recording.

Here's a review of the gig written by Tim Sommer. At the time Sommer was US correspondent for Sounds in the UK:

"Standing around the Ukranian National Home on Manhattan's lower Second Avenue puts me in a sour mood. This is a prestigious gig in an odd venue, and the audience, like the hall, is truly pretentious in it's self-conscious unpretentiousness. The place is full of the cream of New York's pseudo- Continentals, the transparent and ridiculous '80's would-be bohemians with their long dark coats, scarves and faces. Unfortunately, very much the crowd you would expect for New Order. The evening's whole mood has been strongly anti-rock, so it's refreshing and pleasantly surprising when New Order's set begins brightly, with real strength and power. 

It's a vast improvement over their debut here, about fourteen months ago. Their gigs then, their first ever as New Order and with one less band member, are best left forgotten. The band then was static, bleak, impenetrable. But now, we find them to be warm, human, open, and confident. If their predecessors had a reputation for being a Joy-less Division, New Order are just the opposite while working with much the same means - they are positively uplifting. 

As a live band, New Order have really nothing to offer but themselves and their skills. There's not a hell of a lot to look at, to keep your eyes rivetted on stage, but their music glows, and that's good enough. New Order's sound and music is chins-up, and though it deals with a lot of edges and highs and lows, I find it to be surprisingly straightforward. Albrecht and Morris and Hook and Gillian use sound so well, they're so firm yet so intricate, truly expansive. Yes, they are serious, but not gloomy at all. There's this bounce to New Order that Joy Division rarely had (or was just beginning to develop near the end), a bounce that always keeps them moving, never down. Each instrument spells a counter melody and rhythm, weaving together and interacting spectacularly. Peter Hook's six-string bass chimes and adeptly sets both a meter and a melody, Albrecht ringing and layering his guitar over that, all over Gillian's solid and basic synth and rhythm guitar and Stephen Morris's spinning drums. New Order are able to convey the support and strength in their sound while also bringing forth it's delicateness, it's vulnerability. Rarely will you find a band so capable of using music as such an expressive emotional metaphor. Throughout, the audience, disappointingly, remains polite, applauding measurably after each number but little more, barely responding to New Order's feeling. 

They deserve so much better than to be intellectualized, and stodgily observed, filed away into post-new music, post neo-disco braniac gloom. Much of the other new music I hear on their level just lies lifeless, souless, and flat, but New Order soars." TIM SOMMER

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