“I see a ship in the harbour…” A flourishing New Order play the classics at Bristol quayside gig

“I see a ship in the harbour, I can and shall obey”

New Order brought a whole new meaning to their iconic floor-filler ‘Blue Monday’ last night (July 18) as they performed in front of, well, ships in the harbour on a scenic temporary summer stage on Bristol’s Harbourside.

When you add into the mix last month’s 40th anniversary of Joy Division’s cultural milestone ‘Unknown Pleasures’, this sold-out show never looked like being anything other than a set brimming with favourites from both of these vital Manchester bands — and so it proved.

There’s something to be said about the band’s opening video of a diver suspended in slow motion: backed by the powerful orchestral grandeur of Wagner’s ‘Vorspiel’, the footage shifts from monochrome to glorious colour in something of a metaphor for the evolution of Joy Division into New Order. Tonight’s show, though, isn’t about labouring any such comparisons — it’s much more about celebrating two huge legacies.

Applause gives way to New Order’s propulsive ‘Singularity’ and then the spirited pop of ‘Restless’; two songs that demonstrate just how on the money their last studio album ‘Music Complete’ was. These recent tracks serve as a reminder that, despite the strong sense of nostalgia which flows throughout the Harbourside this evening, New Order have always managed with each new release to stay current by never resting on their laurels — something they could’ve easily done with a back catalogue as glimmering as theirs.

New Order
New Order (Picture: Rhys Buchanan)

The newer tracks pave the way for a generous batch of Joy Division classics which are served up early on in the set. Bernard Sumner, himself sporting an ‘Unknown Pleasures’ t-shirt, teasingly asks “Any Joy Division fans here?” before airings of ‘She’s Lost Control’, ‘Shadowplay’ and ‘Transmission’. It’s compelling to see these stark and angsty anthems roll over a sunny Harbourside evening, although at one point a playful jeer of “We paid to see New Order” emerges from the crowd.

A clear turning point in the set comes as ‘Your Silent Face’ builds excitement with its Kraftwerk-like heavy synths. It’s clear that the dense crowd are loving it, and even those who couldn’t get a ticket line the adjacent side of the Harbourside underneath Bristol’s industrial cranes. All the New Order favourites follow, from ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ to ‘True Faith’ and ‘Blue Monday’ to ‘Temptation’. Each track rouses a new wave of excitement as day turns to night.

Throughout the night you can’t help but think about the late Ian Curtis, Joy Division and what might have been. New Order seem to acknowledge this by paying a respectful and direct tribute to Curtis with a cover of ‘Decades’, which sees grainy footage of the late frontman beamed onto the back of the stage. The band then have fun with a cover of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and you get the feeling they proudly relish going back to where it all started. The words “Joy Division Forever” then appear, and they depart.

Yes, it was an incredibly nostalgic affair but New Order are assuredly a band of the now. This was a night capable of stirring the heart and soul, and while there may be some significant pieces of the puzzle notably absent from this band, tonight there’s no room for any concern about that. Once again, New Order deliver with finesse and class.