Joy Division, A Certain Ratio: Osbourne Club, Manchester

TO THE centre of the city in the night waiting for Joy Division.

Thursday night and the hordes pour out of the Apollo after Iggy Pop’s yearly extravaganza and head towards Manchester’s newest optimistic rock venue. The New Osbourne Club. Spacious, seedy and halfway to being perfect.

Just a stone’s throw away from the site of the deceased Electric Circus. The people pour in. Expectations run high and the atmosphere is warm and cosy. They’ve come to witness Joy Division. The band who continue to supply the most passionate and moving music in the country today, but the band’s brilliance tends to be erratic and rarely do they perform at their full power. To catch Joy Division when they’re peaking is to view rock’n’roll at its most biting best. Would tonight’s crowd be lucky? Actually no, but that’s to be explained later.

Section 27 prove to be yet another stab at the new Northern psychedelic fad complete with a variation on Floyd’s old tried and tested ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’. Although the music is rolling, the vocals are harsh and packed with false anger. The overall effect is unattractive and abrasive although, given time, Section 27 should smooth out their rough edges and begin to sound clean and powerful. They do show a considerable strength of character which should be channelled directly into the song themes and not wasted by their present over-zealous vocal stance.

A Certain Ratio, on the other hand, have materialised into a forceful, unique band of high quality. The Mancunian audiences have begun to finally accept and enjoy the primal rhythms of this strange band. Visually, they still edge far too close to Joy Division far comfort and that is still an annoying factor, but any band that revolves around a drummer with the class of Donald Johnson deserve to be heard. Their set is promising though hardly stimulating.

The same can almost be said of the remarkable Joy Division. Ecstatic receptions aside, they fail to cash in on the advantages given them by their fanatical following. The set is 90 per cent new material.

Without doubt, this is a favourable sign and I’m relieved to find that the new songs steer carefully clear of that threatening area of solid self-indulgence. They have managed to retain their punchy pressure.

However, despite a couple of moments of pure nostalgic magic, Joy Division are unable to capture the essence of their passion. Ian Curtis’ dance spurts attempt to whip up an atmosphere, but it’s not enough. They have, for the time being, lost their arrogance, their urgency, their commitment and their essential sense of feeling.

They needn’t worry, in fact they always were prone to playing below par gigs at the worst possible time, but in true r’n’r irony, they are forced into an encore situation. They tried to sound full of purpose, but nobody is perfect.

Not even Britain’s finest rock band.

© Mick MiddlesSounds, 1 March 1980

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