Gary Numan is perhaps best known as the electro-punk pioneer who moulded the flamboyance and posturing of Bowie and the robotic style of electronic experimentalists Kraftwerk into a string of chart hits during the late 70s and early 80s.
As front man for Tubeway Army, Numan penned two of his most successful hits, ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ and ‘Down in the Park’, before breaking with the band in 1979. His first solo release, The Pleasure Principle, was a commercial success with its lead single, the iconic ‘Cars’, reaching No. 1 in the UK chart in 1979. The album established Numan’s distinctive sound, with synthesisers fed through guitar effects pedals, and his androgynous image, a cold, mechanical statue on stage, face caked in white make-up.
As Numan’s commercial appeal fell away through the 80s and 90s, his approach to music developed. Numan experimented with jazz and funk styles, incorporating more advanced sampling techniques, before settling in the late 90s on the heavier, industrial sound which has characterised his recent output. The quivering vocal delivery remains, but thick overdriven guitar riffs are typical of the 21st century Numan.
On the last night of this current tour, in support of his twentieth studio album ‘Dead Son Rising’, Numan provides something of a potted history of himself, sprinkling a set mostly made up of new Numan with a selection of his more recognised tracks. ‘Films’ and ‘Metal’ from ‘The Pleasure Principle’ get an airing, before a smattering of singles from his recent albums. Numan brings a surprising energy to his performance, abandoning his iconic aloofness in favour of a full-on freakout. Toying with the mic stand and flinging himself back and forth, Numan cuts a shape or two more than expected on the gloomily titled mid-set trio of ‘Everything Comes Down To This’, ‘A Prayer For The Unborn’ and ‘I Am Dust’.
It’s fair to say that even the loyal band of ‘Numanoids’ in assembly were somewhat sleepy during the set’s second half, which saw Gary delve into the darkness with a run of sludgy epics from the aforementioned ‘Dead Son Rising’ album. One of which, new single ‘Petals’, saw support band Officers rejoin the stage to play a track Numan rather grandiosely calls his greatest collaborative work to date.
In reality, it is the Numan of old, which has shifted tickets on this tour and to his credit he doesn’t shirk from the responsibility of entertainment. A fleshed-out reworking of ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’ with its synth break adapted to a twinkly piano tune finishes the set, before an encore of ‘Down in the Park’, ‘Cars’ and 1980 hit ‘I Die: You Die’. These tracks are more infantile in comparison to the larger soundscapes of Numan’s most recent work, but they’re undeniably infectious, sending the ‘Numanoids’ into raptures.
While I had feared this performance would have the snoozy feel of an ageing artist making a subdued appearance to top up the bank account, Numan did enough here to satisfy any slurs against his integrity as an artist. An innovative and forward-thinking musician in his time, Numan continues to develop his style while holding on to the fundamental pop appeal of his younger years.
…Jack has been listening to Hot Chip – Don’t Deny Your Heart…