It is a tale of two bands. While U2 are in Las Vegas playing inside a giant lava lamp, on the other side of the Atlantic, their near-contemporaries New Order are sharing some home truths with their Irish audience. “I don’t like Guinness. It’s horrible,” says singer Bernard Sumner. “I’m a poncy wine drinker from Salford.”
Who does it better – Bono or “poncy winer drinker” Sumner? In a packed 3Arena, it’s hard to argue against the ever-green melancholy of New Order’s glorious pop. Forty years ago, hits such as Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle sounded as if they’d beamed in from the distant future. Decades later, those songs retain their gobsmacking effervescence.
Their very earliest material dates from their tragic original incarnation as Joy Division, a dolorous steamroller that unravelled following the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis. In the aftermath of his death, Joy Division became New Order and their music pivoted from black and white to mind-blowing technicolour. In Dublin, they take that journey in reverse, beginning with the post-Kraftwerk synth shenanigans with which they blazed through the 1980s and 1990s and then rewinding to the funereal pomp of Joy Division.
Backwards or forwards, it’s quite a trip. Ian Curtis, skinny and haunted, seemed born to be an icon. But the bandmates he left behind were cut from more outwardly mundane cloth and it is to their credit that they turned New Order into an even more essential force than Joy Division (bass player Peter Hook remains estranged from his former colleagues, though his absence is less notable than it once was).
If acclaimed for their innovative electronica, Sumner and the rest of New Order also know how to whip up a student disco ruckus. They open with the gale-force indie pop of Crystal. As they plunge into the tune the overhead screen replays the original video. It stars a fake band called The Killers – from which another group known for their love of Las Vegas would later take their name.
Sumner is, at 67, endearingly awkward: he still looks like someone filling in until the real front-person arrives. That vulnerability is the vital ingredient in Age of Consent and the stately Ceremony.
He isn’t the most naturally gifted vocalist and muddy sound initially swamps the performance. But, retracing the arc of their career, New Order push through. They are soon galloping through the magisterial Your Silent Face – featuring the saddest recorder solo in history – and the scintillating Vanishing Point.
The encore is devoted to Joy Division and to Curtis, whose grainy image materialises during the doomy procession of Atmosphere, driven by Stephen Morris’s tempestuously glum drums and Gillian Gilbert’s stark keyboards. It is followed by the thunderous Transmission. And then, wonderfully and heartbreakingly, Love Will Tear Us Apart. The screen is monochrome and adorned with the words “Joy Division Forever”. At the conclusion of a spectacularly emotive evening, it is the only light show required.