Monday 16 May 2011
Everything old is Numan again.
When this tour was first announced I had the same rollercoaster reaction I had when he visited the East coast two years ago.
Got to go, got to go.
Oh, hang on Numan is all ‘industrial-y’ these days.
Slump, sigh, inner turmoil.
I didn’t make the trip in the end. Reaction from that tour had been mixed to say the least, with a common criticism from older Gary Numan fans being they didn’t like the old material getting an industrial make-over. Gary was a massive influence on the likes of Trent Reznor, but his more recent albums have seemed a little like the influencer was becoming the influence-ee, with albums like Exile, Pure and Jagged all having a distinct Nine Inch Nails-esque flavour. It’s not that those albums are not good, Exile in particular I loved; it’s just not the Gary Numan I want to travel to the other side of the country to see.
So when they announced this tour I did the same rollercoaster but there came an extra bit of the ride.
He’s doing all of his classic third album Pleasure Principle?
In the original style it was recorded?
Plus the hits?
And it’s coming to Adelaide?
And the support is SEVERED HEADS?
When I arrived the legendary Severed Heads are already on stage. Not that you would have noticed. The out front sound level for them is pitifully low. It is seriously about half the volume it should be. The Heads themselves look somewhat uncomfortable and bemused by being in front of a crowd of people, most of whom clearly have no idea who they are. Tom Ellard is cracking wise between songs “We love you Adelaide, you don’t love us, but we love you!” And at least they seem to be finding the tepid reaction of the crowd amusing. Mostly the Severed Heads show revolves around some impress computer graphics projected onto a large screen. The guys themselves are lurking in the dark. There are some newer tracks, after all they have been making new music til 2008, but the best reactions are for Heart of the Party (1995 – “Who will tell my drunken friend, that she will die and go to hell?”) and Dead Eyes Opened (originally released in 1984, but a revamped version in 1997 was huge hit). Reworkings of songs like Petrol (1986) and Pilot in Hell (Cuisine 1991) were ambient and captivating if hard to hear. Ellard leaves us with, “Right that’s it from us, we off to the old folk’s home.”
The audience is full of faces I would expect to see. There are long time fans, aging Goths, Nine Inch Nails and Foo Fighters fans there to see this dude that Reznor and Grohl (not to mention Manson) have been going on about for years. Even people who have come to Numan through his cameo on the Mighty Boosh. But there is also a large contingent of the old school Numan fans, many of whom don’t go out much these days (several of them told me this themselves). But here they are, out on a cold school night, decked out in their leather coats, big boots with the buckles, and the eyeliner – the uniform of the Numanoid. I discover later that a bunch of the most Numanoid-y of these Numanoids were actually from the UK and USA and were following the whole tour. He inspires this kind of dedication.
As the four piece band takes their places a large image of Gary from the cover of Pleasure Principal is projected on the big screen behind them, it send a wave of excitement through the room. The man himself appears and the man starts into Airlane. The older folks who bought an actual record of Pleasure Principal in 1979 were in for quite a treat. The whole album played in full (if not sequential order) in fully authentic 1979 futuristic moog and polymoog sounds. Of course these days you don’t need actual Moogs to make Moog noises but that’s okay. Gary seems pretty subdued during this first bracket. There is little movement, and not much…spark. Some may say he was always cold and detached back then and that was part of his Bowie-esque appeal, but it’s more than that. It is utterly glorious for us to hear these songs the way we originally heard them, but there is the impression that it’s not quite so glorious for Gary himself.
Opening with Airlane it is immediately obvious that those sounds, that seemed so very futuristic in 1979, still maintain an alien steely feel of detachment which remains impressive 32 years later. It was these sounds that paved the way for Depeche Mode, OMD, Ultravox, Human League, Duran Duran and all the other ‘synth-pop’ in the early 1980’s. Airlane is followed by Metal a track that was sampled by Hip Hop legend Afrika Bam Baa Taa and covered by Nine Inch Nails. The powerful descending chords of M.E. (so effectively sampled by Basement Jaxx on Where’s Your Head At? quickens the pace but people are still a little restless. It might be because whilst Pleasure Principle is a classic album it’s not packed full of hit singles. Complex was a top ten single in the UK but I don’t think it was even released in Australia. So it’s not til the album section of the evening finishes with Cars that people get truly energized. As well they should all these years later Cars is an incredible song, its oscillating keyboard line starts and it is thoroughly electrifying. When the drums kick in its goose-bump and dancing time.
A quick equipment change (keyboards are swapped for guitars) and a smiling, playful and totally pumped up Numan reappears. Clearly this is the part of the show he has been looking forward to. He is bouncing up and down and can’t wait to get started. And what a start, a blinding version of his much covered Down In the Park. Delivered with ferocious energy it is a definite highpoint of the night. Such a popular song raises hopes this second potion of the show will be full of ‘hits’, which is sadly not the case. Instead he sticks to mostly later songs from the last decade, including three brand new songs (The Fall, When The Sky Bleeds He Will Come and Everything Comes Down To This) that are due to be on his yet to be released Dead Son Rising album. And again, I have nothing against the newer style Numan; Everything… in particular was a great song. But I guess I’d have rather had We Are Glass, We Are So Fragile, or This Wreckage, but I hold on to some hope we might get a Telekon tour at some stage. So apart from the brand new songs there is Pure and A Prayer For The Unknown (both from Pure 2000) and Halo and Haunted both from 2006’s Jagged. But the end of the second movement was a fantastic Are Friends Electric, a song that has been covered and sampled countless times with good reason, and tonight it is nothing short of epic. The final song of the set is I Die You Die from Telekon, which is also bloody great.
A bunch that brave the freezing cold, are rewarded with autographs and photographs with the man himself. He knows more than a few by name. These are the US and UK Numanoids who have come half way round the world to follow the tour. “This is it for us Gary,” says the tall man who looks like an extra from Underworld a vision in full length leather coat, buckle boots and Lycan hair cut, “We have to head home soon.”. It’s quite sweet and Gary thanks them for coming and shakes his hand.
And so three decades of Numan fans retreat into the dark, buckle boots clinking into the night.
Ian Bell 2011.
Airlane (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Metal (Pleasure Principle 1979)
M.E. (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Tracks (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Observer (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Conversation (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Engineers (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Complex (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Films (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Cars (Pleasure Principle 1979)
Intro/Down in the Park (Replicas - Tubeway Army 1979)
The Fall (new song – unreleased)
Pure (Pure 2000)
When the Sky Bleeds, He Will Come (new song – unreleased)
Haunted (Jagged 2006)
Everything Comes Down To This (new song – unreleased)
Are Friends Electric (Replicas - Tubeway Army 1979)
Halo (Jagged 2006)
A Prayer for the Unborn (Pure 2000)
I Die You Die (Telekon 1980)