Review Summary: One of the finest live albums in existence, we will not see their like again
There are some people who believe that the most important day in British musical history was June 4th 1976 when The Sex Pistols played their first gig outside of London at The Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. Only about 40 people actually attended the gig, but among their number were Tony Wilson, Steven Patrick Morrissey, Mark E Smith, 3 future members of The Buzzcocks and two impressionable teenage boys named Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner. The next day these 2 boys went out, bought a guitar and a bass and formed Warsaw. Later on that summer, on July 20th, The Pistols played a far bigger gig in Manchester, a notable attendee was one Ian Kevin Curtis. After joining Warsaw Curtis changed the name of the band to “Joy Division” and the rest, to be a clichéd bastard, is history.
While listening to Joy Divisions album “Closer” it’s hard to recall the origins of the group at those two gigs in 1976. Any remnants of Punk are buried under echoing drums, synthesisers and Curtis’s suicidal writing. With “Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979” the influence is plain to see. The Joy Division were a completely different experience live than on record. This album is faster and messier than anything heard from the studio. The Track listing is basically a greatest hits for all things Joy Division apart from the omission of some of the better tracks from “Closer”, “Colony” would have worked fantastically in the style of the songs on this album. Nevertheless there are a few gems for fans here such as “Autosuggestion” and “Passover”
Frantic Drumming, distorted bass and Curtis with a growl, it all starts with “Disorder” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” sounding so much better than ever before. At this breakneck pace even “Shadowplay” is a fast and sharp song. The songs are kept short, the first five tracks rush by in about 16 minutes and there is no real interaction with the crowd to break up the experience.
On this album, almost every song could be considered a highlight, each one fantastically written and each one given a new hitherto unexperienced lease of life. I would rate “24 Hours” as one of Joy Divisions most depressing songs, but on this record it’s as well driven as any of the others, with that classic bass line pushing Curtis’s best writing onward. The three best songs on the album are “New Dawn Fades”, “Atrocity Exhibition” and “Digital” and they are all played one after the other. They showcase the band at their absolute peak in a live setting. Perfectly in sync, with each instrument getting just the right amount of attention in brilliantly written songs.
There are a few downsides however, I never liked “A Means To An End” and I don’t like it here, the vocals are uncharacteristically weak at times but for the most part it is an improvement on the original. There’s also an early version of “Passover”, one of the best songs ever released by the band, but it quite simply doesn’t work in this form and is by far the worst song on the album.
This album is probably the best live album I’ve ever listened to, the overwhelming majority of songs work perfectly, showing a different side to the band. You get the sense that some of the songs are more rounded than they were originally on record, most notably “Atmosphere”. The Joy Division were never the most technically talented band in the world, but here they find fantastic sounds in their instruments that could stand beside the best. This album should stand behind “Closer” and “Unknown Pleasures” as the highlights of the best band to grace the Post-Punk movement.
I give it a 4.5, as a live album, not an album full stop and it is important to keep this in mind.