Scanner and The Heritage Orchestra reviewed on Wednesday May 29.
It was a unique experience to hear the elements of Joy Division’s back catalogue separated/dismantled and then enriched by orchestration. The skeleton of the songs remained, but a whole new life was breathed into them. While the eeriness of much of the rhythm parts was maintained, the melodies were enriched by the warmth of strings and horns.
The visuals by Matt Watkins added an extra dimension that worked to fill the space the lack of vocals and lyrics had left. Some worked better than others; some of the early cityscapes were a bit jarring, but the layering of a front screen separating the orchestra from the audience allowed for layered visual textures. The most striking were the various reiterations of Peter Saville’s undulating sound waves from the Unknown Pleasures cover, re-imagined here as mountains and pulse lines. Handwritten lyrics appeared across the front screen during ‘Isolation’ – “Carefully watched for a reason/Painstaking devotion and love” – which were the most tangible link we were given to the band themselves.
‘Transmission’ was reborn as a crashing, thrashing rhythm drawn through with lashing of strings and piano, whereas ‘She’s Lost Control’ began as a dub beat, with the other musical elements teased apart and re-woven into a new sonic fabric entirely.
There was no ghostly hologram of Ian Curtis, no photos, and the only vocals were a short loop of the chorus during the pared back finale, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. And those final vocals were the only part of this graceful tribute that felt flat. The strength of the performance was that the orchestra wasn’t trying to recapture the original alchemy of Curtis, Sumner, Hook and Morris, but rather re-interpret their music in a whole new way. As someone commented on the way out, “we didn’t come to see a Joy Division cover band.” And that’s just it – in the end, Live Transmission was something else entirely, which made it a great show on its own merit, and able to stand alongside the original material it celebrated.
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