Setlist History: Joy Division's Last Show

On May 2, 1980 Joy Division played its last concert. In front of about 300 fans at High Hall, a dining commons at a residence hall of Birmingham University in England, singer Ian Curtis and his band performed 11 songs.

A few weeks later, the troubled frontman and songwriter hung himself in his home, in part due to the anxiety he felt over his rocky romantic relationship and forthcoming North American tour - the band's first. After Curtis' death, the remaining members would regroup and form New Order.

Joy Division ticket via Simon Parker

Joy Division opened the Birmingham show with a live debut of a new song, "Ceremony," which would become a staple in New Order's set. On a setlist recovered by a fan, the song was merely called "New One," alluding to the fact the tune had not been named yet. But almost immediately the group knew it was special. 

"Ceremony" from a rehearsal shortly before the show.

"It was probably the only Joy Division song that I played repeatedly on cassette," drummer Stephen Morris said. New Order would play the song over 400 times during their career and bassist Peter Hook would perform it over 500 times with his group The Light. It has been covered by several groups including Radiohead and Galaxie 500.

The song would become New Order's first single - one they released three times, most recently in 2011 for Record Store Day via Rhino Records.

Curtis had struggled with epilepsy and had seizures both on and off stage. Part of his anxiety of traveling to the US was his concern about how American audiences would react to his condition. Someone who attended the Birmingham show said that Curtis had to leave the stage once during the performance.

One song curiously missing from the band's last show was "Love Will Tear Us Apart" which had become a staple in the group's set and one of their top 10 most played tunes. The title was a cheeky, dark spin on the  upbeat pop smash "Love Will Keep Us Together," which was a giant hit for Captain and Tennille in 1975. 

"Why is the bedroom so cold? You've turned away on your side / Is my timing that flawed? Our respect runs so dry," Curtis wrote in reference to his turbulent relationship with his wife in the midst of an affair he had with a Belgian journalist.

This historic show was recorded by three sources. One was straight from the soundboard and two fans recorded their own bootlegs.

"Transmission" from one of the bootlegs of the show.

New Order recently wrapped up a North American tour including a keynote speech at SXSW in Austin. They will return to touring in June in Spain and Portugal and have other European dates in the fall. Tickets available on their website.

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Last updated: 8 Jun 2023, 12:31 Etc/UTC