Wednesday 2 December 2009

Gary Numan, Rock City

Gary Numan, now 51 years young, was once thought to be a bit of recluse; he even retired from touring way back in the early eighties but it was a brief hiatus. These days he seems to come on tour practically every year. My partner always asks 'shall we?' Well we haven't so far. He was never really my thing, although other synthesizer dominated stuff from the same period was. Anyhow this year, curiosity got the better of even me as announced a tour to commemorate 30 years since his classic album ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was released.

It’s also the first over 18’s gig we’ve been to for ages, as they all seem to let in kids these days. Numan probably knows he hasn’t got any fans under 18 or under 40 for that matter; in fact I may be the youngest one here tonight. We make our way down to the front; somebody wants a good view of her former (and perhaps still a current) heartthrob.

On the original tour for this album in 1979, the support band for the UK leg were no other than ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’ but tonight it’s ‘Dirty Harry’. Who were formed by singer Victoria Harrison (known as Harry) and former Towers Of London and The Prodigy guitarist, The Rev.

Harry is Ida Maria with attitude, better songs and blonder. She wavers from Courtney Love moments to Cerys Matthews. Meanwhile her band turn out an edgy rock sound which is all buzzing guitars providing the background to Harry’s strong vocals, which have an American tilt. Although English she has spent a lot of time living across the pond. They impress and had the tickets not mistakenly told us doors at 7.30 we might have seen more of them.

Rock City is by now about three quarters full and chants of ‘Numan, Numan’ are abound, honestly it’s like being at the football. Then Numan and his band take to the stage. Four guys at synthesizers, a bass guitar and drums. Nothing with six strings in sight. ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was the first album to be credited to Numan as a solo artist and unlike its predecessor Tubeway Army's 'Replicas' which incidentally Numan toured last year, it contained no guitars at all.

They kick things off with the instrumentals 'Random' (merely a b-side) and 'Airlane', the opening track to the album. They then proceed to play ‘The Pleasure Principle’ album in its entirety and in order. Numan, dressed appropriately in a dark suit and tie, finally takes to the microphone to sing ‘Metal’, a song about an android who wants to be human. Just one of many songs about alienated robots, no wonder they all thought him weird at the time and began to think of him as un-human as his songs.

The whole album sounds just like it would have done back in the day, this is no hyped up 2009 remix, and instead he transports us back to 1979. Not that I bought ‘The Pleasure Principle’ first time around, I didn't really even like 'Cars' that much. In fact I first listened to the album in its entirety only two weeks ago but pretty constantly ever since and there are some real gems on it.

The chap immediately behind me obviously did buy it first time around. He knows every sodding word to every song on it and sings them heartily into my ear, practically drowning out the great man himself. When there’s nothing to sing he chucks in a few ‘Numan, Numan’ chants or simply yodels the instrumental bits. I try and move slightly further forward, out of ear shot.

One thing I've realised from listening to the album is what an absolute wonder 'Complex' is, with its haunting sound and the paranoia of the lyrics. This was the follow-up single to ‘Cars’ and the only other track to be released as a single from the album. Numan says little all night but he takes a moment to talk fondly of his friend and former band member Paul Gardiner, who died of a heroin overdose in 1984. Numan dedicates the song to him.

‘M.E.’ about the last machine on Earth and ‘Tracks’ are other highlights but they’re all highlights really. Then of course there’s the number one single 'Cars', his biggest hit, although tonight it was raced through, faster than I remembered, cast aside quickly as if he didn’t want it to be the focus tonight.

It’s been said that Numan doesn't much care for playing too much old stuff and it’s hard to tell whether he’s enjoying himself or not tonight. He says little and is generally expressionless throughout save for a smile when a wrong note is delivered or the occasional nod at the end of a song which I think means that that one went well.

They close the first part of the evening with another instrumental b-side ‘Asylum’ before a couple of the synths are removed and Numan decides to quickly fast forward 30 years and treat us to his new single ‘The Fall’. Not that he tells anyone this, so not good P.R. if he’s hoping for sales.

I’d been slightly amused by the tattooed rocker on keyboards to Numan’s right as he looked so out of place, particularly when he was forced centre stage briefly at the start of the set. Now with the keyboard gone, his eyes light up and he dives for the sanctuary of his guitar. Once it’s in his grasp he seems instantly more at home.

Numan has over the years reinvented himself and now dabbles heavily in industrial rock, as he now shows us. Much to the delight of the hardcore, like my new friend behind me, who again knows every word as Numan plays the rather excellent ‘Pure’ from 2000 album of the same name. Numan himself also now seems unleashed as he starts to prowl the stage and even dabbles with a guitar.

Then suddenly we’re back in 1979 again and to probably the best moment of the night, ‘Down In The Park’ from ‘Replicas’. A track covered by almost every man and his dog, from a techno version in French by DJ Hell (which admittedly I haven’t heard) to Marilyn Manson via the Foo Fighters and others. I’ve even seen a live version of it on the internet by Christian Death. Numan tonight tops the lot, it’s fantastic.

Then it’s back to the new stuff and to the delight of the hardcore three songs from his most recent album 2006’s ‘Jagged’, which may have confused a few people who didn’t know what Numan had been up to recently but judging by the number of ‘Jagged’ t-shirts in the crowd, which is by far the most popular attire tonight, they were in the minority.

That said, all the new stuff did come together in a clump at the end and perhaps another oldie to break things up a bit might not have been a bad idea but no one can say he didn’t play enough old stuff. He played an entire album worth.

Then to close we get a wonderful piano led intro in to, of all things, ‘Are 'Friends' Electric?’, which is just ‘wow’ and possibly trumps ‘Down In The Park’ but only just. The way it’s been redone with the piano in it is just amazing, love it.

The band return for an encore and having played the A-side they flip ‘Are 'Friends' Electric?’ over and play its b-side, the excellent ‘We Are So Fragile’. Then to close it’s a song that’s very personal to Numan, ‘A Prayer For The Unborn’. A song inspired by the numerous problems, miscarriages and unsuccessful IVF attempts that Numan and his wife, a former member of his own fan club, had conceiving. Finally successful, they now have three kids.

Afterwards Numan is on the internet before I am. Isn’t he supposed to be in the bar? He updates his website and offers an apology for being ‘a little bit distracted’ this evening and for not being as committed as usual. Apparently earlier that day they found out that their dog, who has been suffering from a canine version of Multiple Sclerosis for over 18 months, had taken a very serious downturn and the vet had recommended that it would be kinder to put him to sleep.

He’s clearly and understandably gutted and they have a day at home with their dog before their next show. So clearly he’s very human after all. See you next year Gary.

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