Date: December 7th, 2017
Opening Act: Me Not You
Band Link: https://garynuman.com
The trajectory of Gary Numan’s long career has been on a steady upswing for a number of years now. His performance at Brooklyn Steel on December 7 was further proof that this one-time possible cyborg/alien-outsider seems at home with his sound and vision, his past and his present, and his audience.
Back in 2016, I was fortunate to see Mr. Numan perform his classic “debut” album, the Pleasure Principle (the one with “Cars”) at the Garmercy Theater. I say Gary Numan’s debut album, as it was the first album credited only to Mr. Numan rather than his previous incarnation, Tubeway Army, who were responsible for the other classic early new wave/synth punk hit, “Are Friends Electric?” I have to be honest, I had a little trepidation about this Brooklyn Steel show because I feared I would view it through the Pleasure Principle performance lens. I was a little disappointed at that show due to the band’s uninspired, metal-ish reimagining of this icy new wave classic that is such a part of my musical circuitry. However, within minutes of walking in to Brooklyn Steel, several songs late due to L train delays, I was immediately pacified and fully on board with Mr. Numan’s vision.
The band had just started the Tubeway Army song “Down in the Park” and the first thought I had was, “WOW this is HEAVY and it is AWESOME.” My next thought was that this band is firing on all cylinders. They were already several weeks into the tour and obviously comfortable with the parts and their roles on stage. The whole band, including Mr. Numan, were dressed in the post-global warming ravaged-Earth garb of the people who inhabit the recently released concept album Savage (Songs from a Broken World). They reminded me somewhat of the Fremen who populate Frank Herbert’s desert planet Arrakis (Dune for you non-sci- fi types). They didn’t look like a bunch of guys in costumes, they looked like a gang coming to steal the water/gasoline/etc. from your poorly armed village. The song set the stage for the rest of the evening where classic songs (“Cars,” “Are Friends Electric?,” “Films,” M.e.”) were interspersed in about a 1 to 2 ratio with more recent songs including many off of Savage.
What was surprising to me, and what made the performance particularly good, was the band’s ability to make the new wave era songs sound right at home alongside the later industrial-rock material of the 2000s and 2010s. While the metal-ish vibe of the Pleasure Principle show I saw felt half-baked and slightly dated (rather than classic?), this performance felt like it had purpose and intention. Similar synth sounds were used on many songs that gave the set a cohesion that was noticeable and enjoyable. Mr. Numan’s voice was exceptionally strong, and his signature yelp cut through the wall of guitar and synthesizers effortlessly. His comfort and natural demeanor on stage was a far cry from the anxious robot he became famous for being in the early 1980s. There was very little, if any, talking between songs. It was obvious that he was here to get down to business and rock the capacity crowd. The high quality production of the show was obvious throughout, as disorienting strobes flashed relentlessly along with the pummeling of drums one second, then the room was thrown in to darkness for one of many sudden breaks between song sections.
The highlight of the production for me was during “Cars,” as the lights became more static and the familiar turquoise and pink of the recent synth-wave revival dominated the stage. It almost felt as if Mr. Numan was saying, “Yes, I see you kids getting into this old music and rehashing it and jacking the art and aesthetic, but this is how it is done.”
Mr. Numan’s more recent material tends to follow a similar formula – industrial/synth driven, minor-key verses going into anthemic, guitar-driven choruses –
and the template continues to work for him. Standouts of the evening included “Here in the Black” off of 2013’s Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind) and the first single from Savage, “My Name is Ruin.” The crowd was especially into “A Prayer for the Unborn” from Mr. Numan’s Pure, which was released in 2000. Some
could argue that the similarity of 3 different songs selected from 3 albums over 17 years might indicate a certain level of complacency, but I contend that Mr. Numan still has much to explore within the parameters he’s set for himself and we can hopefully look forward to more industrial-rock from him in the near (dystopian?) future.