Vital live dispatches from the last five months in the life of Ian Curtis

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Score 5

Product:

Atrocity Exhibitions

PRESTON 28 FEBRUARY 1980

Rating Star

ALCHEMY

Preston warehouse, February 1980. They’re halfway through “Heart And Soul”, a track from their as yet unrecorded second album, Closer, and things are not going well. Hooky’s bass has conked out, Sumner’s given up altogether and they’re reduced to Morris’ frantic beat and the sound of faulty jack plugs being jiggered in and out in vain. “I think everything’s falling apart,” slurs lan Curtis, and the confusion in his voice says it all. Joy Division have lost control again.

It sounds like chaos, yet listening to the complete warts’n’all document of that fateful Preston gig (less than 12 weeks before Curtis’ death) you can’t help wishing you were there. In spite of their superior bootleg quality, both this CD and its twin, a noticeably less shambolic show at Les Bains Douches in Paris two months earlier, are mesmerising. Where Joy Division’s studio legacy can sound distant and sombre, their spirit cryogenically frozen by Martin Hannett’s glacial production, these are performances by four irascible red-blooded males: desperate, sweaty, urgent and angry (listen to Sumner at Preston having to drop his mask of aloof isolation cursing, “Everything’s fookin’ bust!”).

Always intended as a two-part set, these were first issued separately in 1999 and 2001 in reverse chronological order, possibly to annul the despair of Preston by presenting Les Bains Douches as an optimistic sequel. Now re-released together, the new listener will inevitably honour their impulsive sense of history by turning to the latter first. Of the two, Les Bains Douches is easily the better concert with versions of “Shadowplay” and “Transmission” that are, well, fucking unbelievable. Augmented by seven tracks from two Dutch gigs in January 1980, think of it as “The Pleasure” where Preston is “The Pain”. Which is why, to fully appreciate the triumph and tragedy of Joy Division as one and the same, both are a must.