We did have speculations about how a group that experienced its heyday years before most of the 100,000-plus candy ravers with fuzzy boots at Ultra were a speck in their daddy's sperm would go down. Still, we walked, with cautious optimism, expecting that the New Order boys and one gal (original keyboardist Gillian Gilbert) would assuredly dish out more of their upstart synth movers versus their midtempoed guitar chargers.
As the sun was beginning to set in downtown Miami, Bernard Sumner and crew took the stage to perform in front of a half-empty amphitheater. Were this the closing set at Coachella, perhaps, the crowd would have been massive, but when stacked up against Italian techno-house master DJ Benny Benassi at the world's largest dance music festival, New Order stood at the losing end. The lackluster attendance did not seem to bother Sumner and newer members -- bassist Tom Chapman and guitarist Phil Cunningham -- one bit.
They kicked things off impeccably with "Crystal," a perfect choice, being a peppy newer number (from 2001's Get Ready,) to engage the crowd. Despite the gray hairs, Sumner's midrange vocals were spot on here as Cunningham belted out the tune's jangly higher fret chords with precision.
Much hullaballoo has been raised about the group touring without original bassist Peter Hook -- granted, one could never argue against the virtue of witnessing a band of New Order's caliber perform with its original lineup -- but after just one song, we'd have to say that the troupe was not missing a beat, sounding tight, confident, and invigorated.
New Order kept trying to lure passersby with its second number, "Regret," its highest-charting track in the U.S. (number 28 on the Billboard charts). The song was great bait, with its prime guitar pop licks over Gilbert's enticing keyboard melodicism. One minor complaint here: Those two aforementioned merits overtook Sumner's delivery, but we will just blame the sound guy for sloppy boardwork here (we'll give Sumner the benefit of the doubt and hope Ultra's Live Stage sound guy is not a County Grind reader.)
Although we thought the band's more morose numbers would not go down well among this crowd, the audience took immediate delight once the first few chords were struck from "Ceremony," one of New Order's more somber moments. The song was written prior to Ian Curtis' death in Joy Division. The dark-hued electro tones were sparkling and flowing, and the crowd enjoyed every minute.
"Bizarre Love Triangle" came next, and it proved to be one of those extreme crowd sing-alongs. Our earshot indicated that only the 40-something prepsters' voice next to us was audible. Still, its immediately gratifying beats and huge hooks proved unifying; like the rock and dance music that New Order marries, here was a number that had both balding old-timers sporting satchels and young gals with jiggly bikini tops dancing together in harmony.
"True Faith" was a skippy number with the group channeling a deep Ibiza-style acid house vibe with a meandering synth bridge. We looked to our right and spotted Neon Indian's cute keyboardist, Leanne Macomber, wailing with both her hands in the air to every single electrical squelch. Everything was a-OK in our book with that (call us boo?).
The rarity "5 8 6," a bass-driven post-disco ditty from the group's earlier days, was thrown in and kept the New Order diehards smiling. The circulating keyboards of "Perfect Kiss" were uplifting, but even more impressive was Sumner's ability to dish out the segue riffs on his ax.
Sumner's announcement that "Blue Monday" was to follow drew immediate cheers, and its mind-grasping beat entranced the audience. Sumner joined Gilbert a few minutes in on this one, and together they delivered a melding cascade of synths to end this dance-floor classic.
"Temptation" was the set ender. Some in the crowd might have been surprised to learn that this wasn't a Moby original. Nope, this is a song that comes from the pinnacle of New Order's career, and they played it as such. A jaunty tempo, prickly, digital bleeps, and Sumner's earnest, soulful harmony: "Oh no, I've never met anyone quite like you before." A flawless way to end this set from a group that is quite unlike others. So perhaps there weren't a great many neon-emblazoned, lollipop-candy-sucker-loving kids in attendance; they don't know what they missed out on and who really influenced their idols.
Douchiest statement overheard at Ultra all day: "I don't think we should pee down here [pointing below at men's bathroom]; let's pee in those girls' buttholes."
The crowd: Of an older sort for an Ultra crowd. Mostly 40-somethings reliving their youth and 30-somethings and late-20-somethings wondering where their college years went.
Critical bias: New Order singles take up one crate in this critic's vinyl collection.
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