It seems fitting that when the man hailed as the Godfather of electronic music takes to the stage tonight, he faces an audience representative of both his enduring appeal and musical evolution. Gary Numan is many things to many people. To some, he is the unsmiling frontman of Tubeway Army, the edgy Londoners who were the first post-punk act to have a synth-based Number 1 (Are ‘Friends’ Electric?) To others, he will forever be the icy, New Wave humanoid who gave us The Pleasure Principle – eighties sci-fi synthpop at its finest. And many of course associate Numan with the Goth and Industrial scenes, also acknowledging his influence on other artists, such as Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson. Among others, Fear Factory, Beck, Tricky, The Prodigy, Dave Grohl, and QOTSA have also registered their respect over the years.
The tour takes its name from Numan’s 20th studio album, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind), which has garnered widespread critical acclaim. Tonight’s show incorporates tracks from this darker, heavier offering from Numan, as well as notable selections from his back catalogue. Numan has a remarkably youthful appearance. Dressed simply in black t-shirt and jeans, he moves with an almost balletic litheness as he performs.
It’s difficult to believe just how good the classics sound live. Cars fills the room with an infectious energy that has the whole place head nodding and doing the sort of dancing usually reserved for the lounge room when nobody’s watching. All the while, Numan busts out gloriously Goth-tinged moves and sings with the freshness and energy of someone performing these tunes for the first time. Bathed in red light and complete with theatrical flourishes, Numan gives an astonishing performance of Down in the Park which, if you can believe it, is 35 years old this year. I Die: You Die and, of course, Are ‘Friends’ Electric? are also standouts that have the audience singing along. It’s a brilliant show, and Numan, who cracks the occasional grin between numbers, knows it. His restless energy and stage presence ensure that the crowd is in the palm of his hand for the entire night.
There’s an intensely cinematic quality to Numan’s shows too. His performance of darker tracks, such as The Fall, Here in the Black, Pure, and A Prayer for the Unborn, is utterly absorbing. Numan strikes Christlike poses, his voice plaintive one minute, menacing the next. Dousing himself with bottled water between numbers, as though undergoing some kind of anointing, he is a master of dramatic effect. Numan infuses the more sombre numbers, including Lost and Splinter, with great pathos. And, from from the catchy new wave numbers and the melancholic dirges, we’re plunged into grinding industrial cuts, such as Love Hurt Bleed and Here in the Black. Both were absolutely phenomenal. Throughout the night, Numan does little in the way of interacting – he lets the music and lyrics speak for him. And it speaks volumes. All in all, this is by far one of the finest live concerts I’ve ever seen. If you’ve ever considered going to see Gary Numan live, do not miss him next time around. An utterly unforgettable experience.