In the 29 years since New Order last performed in the Twin Cities, its once-futuristic brand of highly danceable, hopelessly melancholy synth-rock has gone out of fashion and come back in vogue again.
It may have just been good timing — and a relatively hi-fi visual production, too — that kept the pioneering British band’s worth-the-wait concert Thursday at the Palace Theater from feeling strictly like a nostalgia act, even though it very much was.
Based on Thursday’s 2¼-hour set, if New Order had been added as a co-headliner with either the red-hot Chvrches or Marian Hill on the Palace’s 2018 shows list, nobody would think it out of place musically; although Chvrches fans who weren’t even alive yet for the last local N.O. gig might think it odd a guy who now looks like a graying Jack Lemmon is up there fronting that other group.
Singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and a couple hired guns played almost exclusively to Gen-X fans in St. Paul, a solid age line perhaps drawn by the Palace-high $80 tickets. These old-school fans didn’t balk at the prices. The show sold out instantaneously, and upon arrival a lot of them lined up for the $40 T-shirts featuring early-’80s album covers.
Thursday’s 20-song set list — the kickoff to a short U.S. tour following a mostly quiet year — leaned heavily though not entirely on the classic LPs. During the encore, the selections went back even further to a trio of songs by Joy Division, the band that New Order grew out of following the 1980 death of singer Ian Curtis.
First, though, came a couple reminders that New Order has been making records all along.
The show opened with “Singularity,” a fever-pitch, intensely whirring rocker off the otherwise mostly lackluster 2015 album “Music Complete.” That was followed by the band’s last big hit, “Regret,” which dates way back to 1993 but was a new one so far as the deprived Twin Cities crowd was concerned.
Sumner humorously showed his unfamiliarity with the market when, as he said hello, he had to conspicuously pause and think about which of the twin towns finally landed the gig.
“It’s good to be back here in … St. Paul,” he said. “It’s been so long, but it also feels like it was just yesterday.”
After two more tunes from the 21st century, “Restless” and the surprisingly exhilarating “Crystal,” the set list returned to those yesteryears.
“Your Silent Face” — which opened the band’s first Minnesota appearance in 1983 at First Avenue — sounded timelessly elegant, while “Sub-culture” was turned into an aurally bewitching synthesizer workout for Gilbert and Phil Cunningham.
New guy Tom Chapman did an exemplary job recreating the unusually melodic and (no pun) hooky bass lines in older songs such as “Temptation” and “True Faith” as he stood in for co-founding bassist Peter Hook, who infamously split with the band in 2007 and is now touring on his own. Chapman didn’t need to literally stand in for Hook so blatantly though; he stood out front in the spotlight many times during key parts, which only served to remind fans how integral Hook was to the band.
Of course, Chapman’s showiness may have been to offset Sumner’s usual lack thereof. So was the stage’s rainbow-bright array of lighting effects and backdrop video imagery.
The frontman mostly kept in the shadows as usual, though he did finally step out and rouse the crowd during “Blue Monday” just before the encore. His voice sounded a tad strained and croaky in parts, including the ever-ebullient “Bizarre Love Triangle,” but to the 62-year-old singer’s credit he doesn’t use any of the electronic vocal-effects gadgetry that many of New Order’s younger copycats employ.
Sumner also did a fine job filling in for his late bandmate during the encore. Black-and-white images of Curtis and eventually a flashing mantra of “Forever Joy Division” scrolled across the video screen while the band admirably re-raised “Atmosphere,” “Decades” and finally “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the latter providing unequivocal joy for fans.
Hearing those earliest of classics especially hit home how timeless so much of Thursday’s material was, while a lot of other electronics-based music of the ’80s and ’90s now sounds dated. If we have to wait anywhere near as long for another New Order tour date, though, time won’t be so ignorable.
Here’s the set list from Thursday’s concert:
Your Silent Face
Bizarre Love Triangle
Waiting for the Siren’s Call
The Perfect Kiss
Love Will Tear Us Apart