I’m old enough to remember when Gary Numan first hit the music scene in the late 1970s.
He was considered a electronic pop pioneer with a distinctive voice and unique android persona. The influence on his work of dystopian science fiction writers such as Phillip K. Dick was already there to see. Since then he has gone on to record more than 20 albums, many of them innovative and experimental in style. His latest studio album, Savage (Songs From A Broken World), was released in late 2017. This is a concept album set in a brutal post-apocalyptic world where much of planet earth has become a desert.
Despite my long acquaintance with his music, I had never seen Numan perform live so I was interested to see what I would make of his appearance at Preston Guild Hall. In a recent interview the musician expressed a desire to create a multi-faceted stage show to support his concept, focusing on staging and lighting as well as the music. This is exactly what he delivered at Preston.
Much of the set list came from the Savage album, with Numan’s talented four-piece band providing a heavy industrial bass-driven soundtrack to the apocalyptic images that appeared on the screens behind them. The stage was cleverly lit to add to the dystopian mood, accompanied by a powerful light show, full of dazzling colour changes which combined to bombard the senses. The atmosphere was so intense that at times it felt almost overwhelming.
Numan added perfectly to the mood with a bravura performance that belied his 60 years. His every move was choreographed effortlessly to complement the dystopian image he was trying to create. His distinctive vocals sounded as good as ever, and his passion for his latest concept was evident in songs from the Savage album such as My Name Is Ruin and Ghost Nation. He performed with an intensity that I have rarely seen matched at a gig. Numan may not interact endlessly with his fans as so many artists do, but this performance was about as far removed from the ‘soulless label sometimes inflicted during his early career as it is possible to be.
Amid all the recent material, songs from the Numan back catalogue were seamlessly woven into the mix. Highlights included a high octane performance of Here In The Black (from the 2013 Splinter album) and, of course, the classic hits, Cars and Are Friends Electric?. Another old favourite, Down In The Park, went down particularly well with the crowd and showed the artist at his very best, bonding with his adoring fans.