“Isn’t it great to be alive again?” Bernard Sumner asked Heaton Park on Friday night. There was lost time to make up for.
The night before the annual Parklife Festival has grown into a slot for local legends: Liam Gallagher would have played last year if not for the pandemic, and his older brother did play the year before that.
For New Order, though, this was just about the biggest headline show they’ve ever played in their hometown, even if Sumner cheekily reminded us he’s actually from Salford, as the set kicked off.
The last time New Order played in town, it was as part of a series of shows for the Manchester International Festival, which saw them both embrace multi-disciplinary collaboration – enlisting a “synth orchestra” from the local Royal Northern College of Music, and running with a unique light show from artist Liam Gillick – and eschew the classics, with the setlist instead littered with deep cuts.
On Friday night, though, there was no shame in a showcase of their monolithic back catalogue. An early barrage of material from their 80s heyday reminded us of both sides of the band; there were the stately, shimmering synths of “Your Silent Face”, but alongside them, the exposed-nerve rawness of “Age of Consent” and “Ultraviolence”, on which the post-punk of Joy Division cast a long shadow.
“I hope that hasn’t corrupted any of the youth,” said Sumner of the latter, looking out on a crowd impressively difficult to pigeonhole by demographic.
“It was written during a very dark time in Manchester. It isn’t like that any more.”
Elsewhere, we got a juddering “Subculture”, a gleefully eccentric “Bizarre Love Triangle” and, to close the set, as good an electronic hat-trick as you’ll probably ever hear – epic takes on “True Faith”, “Blue Monday”, and “Temptation”.
The more cynical among the audience might have felt that the encore was where proceedings lapsed into outright nostalgia; three Joy Division tracks, with images of Ian Curtis and Tony Wilson flashing across the screen behind the band. Sumner’s often-shaky vocals remain a world away from the cold command that Curtis had on “Decades”, “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, but the latter two tracks worked handsomely as fists-in-the-air anthems, especially in front of a crowd that, with this career-spanning set, had just watched New Order’s transition from punk intensity to electro supremacy unfold in front of their eyes.
Looking forward, doubts remain about the group: were they serious when they titled their ostensibly final album Music Complete back in 2013?
Will they ever make up with Peter Hook? Was John Barnes not available for a celebratory take on “World in Motion”?
On Friday night, at least, it felt like those questions didn’t matter – not in front of a crowd so starved of live music for so long. Instead, it was the perfect kind of homecoming; both artist and audience genuinely happy to see each other again.