On the hottest day of the year, the eagerly awaited Skyline Series kicked off at the Amphitheatre on Bristol’s Harbourside with a stellar line-up of Peter Hook & the Light, the Jesus & Mary Chain and Echo & the Bunnymen. The pre-gig atmosphere was joyous in the riverside bars with the gathering throng basking in the “Hollywood Summer” heat and revelling in World Cup fever. As the sun began to dip behind the imposing industrial warehouses of Bristol’s seafaring past, and silhouettes of the famous iron cranes took centre stage, a sense of euphoric anticipation took hold especially as we had VIP tickets (£165 each mind you!!). A refreshingly polite security team gave us our free goodie bags and ushered us into the venue without fuss to reveal a classic festival set-up with big stage, numerous bars and food stalls, plus a good-natured crowd adorning a myriad of T-shirt designs from the mid-eighties.
Hooky’s band were running through the briefest of sound checks and the unmistakable sound of Joy Division’s glacial synths pierced the twilight air; sitting on the Amphitheatre’s shallow steps taking it all in with beer in hand, I reflected on the imminent prospect of witnessing three of my all time favourite artists playing on the same bill some forty years after after the indie scene captured my teenage heart. Quite simply, it felt great to be alive.
And so The Light took to the stage with the familiar face of Yves Altana newly ensconced on bass following his protracted departure from Chameleons Vox last year. The band launched into a set of Joy Division classics including Colony, Transmission, She’s Lost Control, Shadowplay and Disorder, but Isolation and, inevitably, Love Will Tear Us Apart at the end were the highlights. Hooky’s renaissance over the past decade has established himself as author, DJ and general Godfather of the Manchester post-punk scene and his stage persona oozes a confidence befitting a man who has nothing left to prove.
Some scoff at his decision to form the Light and relentlessly tour the back catalogues of Joy Division and New Order, but his motivations are sincere and the performances authentic. Close your eyes and it really is akin to listening to the original band, which I, sadly, have only seen on video. The bass and drums recreate an intense backline over which synths and guitars weave their melodic magic; how was this brilliant music written four decades ago? Hooky leaves the stage in triumph after tossing his shirt into the crowd who are still singing the anthemic chorus to Love Will Tear Us Apart as one. A brilliant if all too brief performance that must have terrified the on looking headliners!
Enter the Mary Chain and their well-worn brooding and monosyllabic stage presence. A career-spanning set begins with Amputation from last years Damage & Joy album and the die of white noise and feedback is cast; Blues From a Gun, Far Gone and Out and I Love Rock n Roll all feature the Mary Chain’s signature cacophony over which Jim Reid delivers his deadpan lyrics almost devoid of emotion or expression. Some Candy Talking and Just Like Honey steal the show for me, but the distinctly poppy-sounding April Skies inspires the crowd to sing along and leap about. After an hour or so of their rampaging wall of sound, they were gone with just the briefest acknowledgment to the audience many of whom were clearly more interested in the imminent arrival of the Bunnymen.
Having seen them disappoint at the Albert Hall last month, my expectations were quite low and so it proved. Despite rousing versions of Seven Seas and the Cutter, much of the set plodded along with McCulloch seemingly delighting in the anonymity of a couple of new songs which hushed the crowd, and limp renditions of Bring on the Dancing Horses and Nothing Ever Last’s Forever. His incomprehensible Scouse drawl renders any interaction with the audience as meaningless and it is also vaguely insulting. Renowned for his wit and repartee, we now have something of a parody who is either too pissed or too disinterested to engage with those who are paying through the nose to see him perform. I hate to be negative, but I have seen the Bunnymen countless times over the years and this current incarnation simply fail to do justice to the bands fabulous body of work. A single encore of Killing Moon did indeed lift the spirits although it could not disguise the weakness of the show as a whole.
Despite this, a brilliant night out in a stunning setting and perhaps it would have been better if Hooky had headlined!