When it comes to big concert tours, Hawaii music fans are usually stuck on the outside looking in — or traveling to the mainland to see their favorite artists. Well, for once the Aloha State is the “insider” of sorts.
When seminal 1980s band New Order announced six U.S. tour dates back in June, Hawaii gigs surprisingly made up a third of them. Fresh off a show on Maui on Wednesday, the electronic dance rockers play the Blaisdell Arena on Friday.
The performances in Hawaii are the band’s first in 33 years, since a May 1985 show at the legendary Wave Waikiki. So what brought Hawaii fans such luck?
Drummer Stephen Morris laughed when asked that recently in a phone conversation from the home he shares in Macclesfield, England, with wife Gillian Gilbert, who plays keyboards in the band.
>> Where: Blaisdell Arena
>> When: 8 p.m. Friday
>> Cost: $35 to 85
>> Info: 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
“We were going all the way to L.A.,” Morris said, “and we thought we might as well go somewhere else. The idea was to play somewhere we haven’t played before.”
All Morris remembers from that visit 33 years ago is walking Waikiki Beach and being taken to a surf beach that proved a harrowing experience.
“The current was really strong,” Morris said, “and everybody went running into the sea and got caught in a riptide that carried them a half-mile down the beach.”
Despite the light U.S. tour schedule, the band has been plenty busy of late, having wrapped up a collaboration with artist Liam Gillick and a synthesizer orchestra at the Manchester International Festival, a project that culminated on Sept. 22 with the debut of the documentary “New Order: Decades,” which includes footage from the performance and touches on the band’s history.
Morris said the project left them no time to write music for an album to follow their acclaimed 2015 release “Music Complete,” which returned the band to the sound of their heyday, downplaying the guitars that had become more prominent in their more recent work. He does hope the project and documentary will result in the release of a DVD and CD or vinyl, though there are no plans for that as yet.
“Decades” takes its title from a song by Joy Division, New Order’s postpunk predecessor, and it’s fitting, as the story of New Order has always been about the story of Joy Division as well.
Three of New Order’s original members — Morris, singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook — founded Joy Division in Manchester with singer Ian Curtis in 1978, inspired by a Sex Pistols concert. Just as the band was on the verge of stardom, Curtis hanged himself in May 1980, shortly before his 24th birthday.
Joy Division’s music was dark, with songs such as “Atrocity Exhibition” and “Isolation,” which Morris said was a product of their hometown, “a horrible, post-industrial city.”
“(People would say),’You sound like Manchester,’“ Morris said. “You can’t help it. When we’re rehearsing, you look through the windows and see this bleak wreckage of a landscape and it comes out in what you’re playing.”
After Curtis’ death, the three remaining members decided quickly to carry on, but that they couldn’t do so as the same group, out of respect to Curtis and their fans. Within a few months, New Order was born, with Gilbert, Morris’ girlfriend at the time, filling out the lineup.
Joy Division had begun dabbling in synthesizers, and in creating their new sound, New Order had a bit of an epiphany when a promoter friend took them to London’s iconic Heaven nightclub and they heard the way acts such as Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder and even Hi-NRG artists such as Sylvester and Patrick Cowley made use of electronics.
“It was rhythmic and it had the kind of energy that punk rock had,” Morris said.
And thus began the transition to a new sound, though Morris acknowledges it wasn’t easy.
“When Joy Division started, it was really intuitive and we didn’t have to think about it because it just happened. But when we started being New Order, it became a bit of a conscious thing. … It was really awkward.”
Once New Order got their footing, though, the result was a genre that fused electronics and rock music into a dance music that sounded at once futuristic and immediate. The darkness of Joy Division still popped up at times — such as in Sumner’s vocals on the breakthrough dance smash “Blue Monday” and in the lyrics of songs such as “True Faith” and “1963” — but overall the sound became much brighter, with beats built for the dance floor and electronic flourishes that felt like the sound of flowers blooming.
The band added guitarist- keyboardist Phil Cunningham in 2001, and when Hook left in 2007, added bassist Tom Chapman.
In recent years, New Order has added Joy Division’s songs to its set lists.
“It’s far enough away that you can just appreciate them for the great songs that they are,” Morris said.