The prototype synth god known as Gary Numan came to NYC to burn up three nights at the more mid-sized venue Gramercy Theatre to play three of his ground-breaking creations in their entirety. The man is sometimes called a one-hit wonder, which is stunning for an artist who has three gold and number one albums under his belt. It is clear that many do not quite understand his counter-culture appeal, mass culture warping, and darkly artistic zeal that his fans obviously crave, as displayed by these three night sold out dates in the Big Apple. The man’s influence on the music industry has been bigger than most know for well over three decades, starting off in the late 70’s influencing other synth pioneers like The Human League, Devo, and even the Eno-era David Bowie, for whom he himself was a disciple. After ditching the Tubeway Army band label, he lunched into solo territory at the beginnings of the 1980’s and really helped forge the whole new wave explosion, further shaping the sound of other big artists like The Cars, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, and many more through the decade.
The 90’s saw his hand again as synths came back into fashion in a whole new way, and his darker and edgier appeal from his earliest works were thusly absorbed (if not whole sale lifted) by industrial greats like NIN, Marilyn Manson, and KMFDM, as well as other alt-rocking outfits like Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and Gorillaz. Then, in the 2000’s, he once again became a stellar inspiration for many of the electropop and synthpop scenes, as I hear his impact all over bands like CHVRCHES, Phantogram, and The XX. Influences aside; the man, the artist, the showman, and the magician has stayed rather steadily productive through the years, only taking a touch of time away through some of the early 00’s. That being said, coming off of a widely praised tour opening for his devotees Trent Reznor and NIN, he started just last year going from town to town and playing his holy trinity of classic albums in their entirety through three nights. I got to catch him on the third of the three sell out nights here when he was playing probably the lesser-known of his number ones and his third gold disc, 1980’s Telekon.
The LA-based film and synth soundtrack sync-up project known as I Speak Machine opened the show with a half an hour or so concept art show that had me asking if this all seemed too silly to be super or to terrifying to be terrific, and, in the end, had me applauding my ass off.
From the moment Numan and his band strode on stage amid the song “Asylum” being piped through the sound system and stage-bound spot lights swirling about, you had a really goof idea of what you where in for. Launching straight into the opener for Telekon called “This Wreckage,” Gary Numan was a powerhouse of energy, bounding about the stage with boastful power, and persistently pulling boldly expressive positions more akin to a performance artist than an aging rock star.
The man was just a fountain of charismatic vigor, which is especially impressive given his age, although he has clearly tried to stay in shape as you can tell close up. They played the whole album; although it had far more guitars and less robotic noises than the original recording, like with “We Are Glass” that had a particularly increased industrial tone, and it was definitely a differently ordered arrangement then I was used to, which is not surprising, as there have been many different versions and releases of this disc. There was the chance to hear at least a few songs I had never heard him play, and some of the odd-out b-sides or alternate songs from the time like “I Die: You Die,” that you may not have heard before depending on what version you had. After all that, he did launch into several more songs that classify as more of his “hits.”
Then he started off with none other than the mega-single “Cars” that felt much heavier than the original, with a low, chomping guitar timber and heavy, dropping bass sounds. I personally love to hear artists change up their better-known stuff, as it provides a new and inventive take on a piece of art I know perhaps all to well, although probably not all share in that feeling. The piano-heavy take on “Down in the Park” was also very refreshing, and the heaviest of heavy takes on “Metal” accompanied by a stage light invasion was very satisfying. There was a bit of an awkward miss-start on one of my fav Numan tracks “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” when he forgot to sing on time and then half-jokingly blamed it on his keyboardist, but it sounded great nonetheless. After a brief break, they did come out for a couple song encore including “We Are So Fragile” and a surprisingly ending with “A Prayer for the Unborn” from 2000’s Pure album.
I had such a great time covering the show, especially as it was the third and final night, meaning all the other press had already done their reviews, and I had the photo pit all to myself, even though I still had to crush back into the tightly pack floor after the first three songs. It is fascinating to see this classic master of reinvention and modern art in general play live, and I suggest you move mountains to see him on stage as he demolishes whole worlds.
Article: Dean Keim