|When Gary Numan beamed down to planet Pop in the late
Seventies, his dystopian ditties may have put the alien in
alienated, but the sheer galvanic presence of his breakthrough
records found willing recruits to his army of Numanoids. As punk's
buzz-saw guitar became the new orthodoxy, Numan created a sound
dominated by the much-maligned synthesiser. With his unfashionable
desire to be a star and an avowal of Thatcher's policies, Numan
became an easy figure of ridicule.
Also, Numan's approach to electronic music lacked finesse.
Characterised by paranoia and dysfunctional machine-men, his brand
of futurism was updated pulp sci-fi, bolstered by his love of
gadgetry and paraphernalia. As he once said, he wanted to be the
sound of metal.
And metal is the predominant feature of this evening's show. Once
a cover-boy for the nascent Smash Hits, Numan has traversed
the magazine racks to become a Kerrang! favourite. The hard,
persuasive dynamic of his signature tune, "Cars", and the
clipped, battering-ram Moog of The Pleasure Principle, the
album that it came from, are echoed by the howling electro-rock of
his current work.
Numan's stage apparel is now standard 21st-century rock clobber.
The boilersuit of yore is in mothballs, the space-spiv look
consigned to yesterday's wardrobe. For the Numan faithful (and, boy,
are they faithful), that must be a relief. A tour T-shirt and a
quick shine of black to thinning hair now suffice as tribute to
With legs often akimbo and mic stand at a perennial 45 degrees,
Numan has also adopted the stage vernacular of the rock god. The
divine description is no overstatement. There's a messianic edge to
his performance, complete with Christ-on-the-cross dramatics and the
persistent biblical references of his new material. To Numan,
"My Jesus" is "a collector of pain"; in
"RIP", Numan promises: "I'll even walk upon water/
I'll burn the soul of man." If all that sounds a trifle solemn,
well, light relief was never a Numan stock in trade.
But it's not all Christian-baiting. There's plenty of the
raging-with-machines that first gave gloomy cyber-youths their
figurehead. The Marilyn Manson-covered "Down in the Park"
gets the full industrial treatment but loses its glacial ambience.
The breakbeat favourite "Films" is boosted by a powerful
snare, and the crisp synth-figures of "Metal" are
transformed into veritable block-rocking beats.
Though the themes remain apocalyptic, Numan is no longer a sullen
figure. Fêted as a pioneer from New York to New Cross and cited as
an influence by everyone from Derrick May to Queens of the Stone
Age, he has plenty of reasons to be cheerful, and a glimpse caught
through the dry ice and frosty atmospherics reveals that even
machine-men sometimes smile.