Nothing dates faster than the futurism of past generations. But the
former post-punk icon Gary Numan still drew a large and enthusiastic
congregation of black-clad fans to his Bristol show on Thursday.
Almost 50, Numan remains trim and boyish, even if his crazed stare and
toothy snarl contain more than a hint of the deranged German screen
star Klaus Kinski nowadays.
There is an enduring innocence to Numan that is charming and
limiting. While everyone from the pop divas Sugababes to the superstar
DJ Armand Van Helden has sampled his innovative early hits in recent
years, the man himself sticks steadfastly to the doom-laden
techno-rock formula that has sustained him for more than a decade. A
more calculating careerist might have exploited his credibility as the
founding father of British electro-pop by hijacking the DayGlo dance
beats of the Nu Rave scene.
Which would be shameless opportunism of course, but at least it
might have enlivened some of the angst-ridden bombast that filled
Thursday’s set. The tracks from Numan’s most recent album, Jagged,
could certainly use a sprinkle of pop sensibility. In a Dark Place
sounded graceless and bloated, while the goth-metal thunder of Haunted
soon outstayed its welcome. Adolescent emotional catharsis is just
about acceptable in a 25-year-old bedsit rocker, but mildly
preposterous from a 50-year-old father of three.
Thankfully, Numan included classics from his early Tubeway Army
period. A heavily electronic Down in the Park mustered an icy grandeur
that none of his recent material could match, while a muscular
rearrangement of his signature tune Are “Friends” Electric?
inspired a mass singalong among Bristol’s assembled Numanoids.
It was clear that this is what most of them came to hear: communal
alienation anthems for dogged devotees who have followed the maverick
rocker for decades. Numan’s small but significant place in pop
history is assured, but he could afford to steal a little more
inspiration from his younger self