The Heart and Soul set rectified the errors of Still by including some far better live performances on its fourth and final disc, but Joy Division aficionados spoke of even better recordings still never formally released. This complaint was settled with Preston, the first of two archival concert recordings, both of which finally do justice to the band's stage work. It's an important point, since Joy Division were a band able to work on three different levels with equal brilliance -- on singles, album, and in concert -- and Preston is the first real document able to demonstrate the latter point beyond question. Though the performance was beset with technical woes, as the members audibly mention at points between songs, there was still definite magic in the air. If the recording levels aren't as perfect as they could be, with Curtis himself sometimes a touch too muffled, they're certainly a cut above simple bootleg sound, while the quartet itself generally exchange the subtler shadows for a more direct but no less gripping approach. Nearly half of Closer appears some months before its release. The arrangements were already well worked out, "Twenty Four Hours" shifting effortlessly between lower-key brooding and explosion; "The Eternal" given a quietly majestic, unsettling extended opening, Morris' crisp, weirdly thin drums and Sumner's wheezing, distanced keyboards leading the way. Curtis projects his expected air of desperation mixed with intense fire, but even when the levels reduce him to a slur he's nothing less than commanding, his lyrics cutting through the music with intensity. In direct contrast to the Closer version, his singing on "Heart and Soul" is much more upfront, though heavily drenched with reverb. Sumner in particular kicks up a storm on guitar, familiar riffs from the studio takes bursting with energy, slashing across the songs (there's no other way to describe the performances on "Wilderness," "Shadowplay," and "Transmission").
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett