Originally published on KDHX.org
If you listen to the first track from Gary Numan‘s freshman solo release, “The Pleasure Principle,” its most appropriate classification is that of a precursor: a postcard to the future, inscribed with the possibilities of audibly merging man and machine more thoroughly than ever before.
Of developing a persuasion of sound that had yet to be uncovered and plugged-in. That first album (not counting his recordings with Tubeway Army) made the man and promptly manufactured the loyal fans, lovingly referred to as Numanoids, who packed the Firebird Wednesday night to support Gary Numan and his 2013 album “Splinter,” while he continues his world tour.
Opening acts Big Black Delta and Roman Remains fired-up the onslaught of “More German than German” with hard rock and electro-dance. Roman Remains hail from England, and with all the charm and functionality of a defibrillator, their female singer shot-off sultry, sneering lyrics reminiscent of Shirley Manson and Garbage, music placed right at home alongside anything on “The Crow” soundtrack.
Roman Remains were followed by Big Black Delta, an L.A. act more party mansion than house music. Leader Jonathan Bates can rock a MacBook Pro better than anyone I’ve ever seen. He and the hard-hitting drummer played earnestly and were a perfect choice to warm-up the crowd, with their hefty mix of vocal loops and rock beats. The drummer hit like no tomorrow, and the frontman jammed on a QWERTY keyboard. The crowd went electric.
Gary Numan took the stage 45 minutes later, letting the anticipation build and the crowd get even more packed. Numan is a short, dark-haired man with a classic English scowl, dressed in black-on-black fashion. At this point, dressing in this much black is more statement of purpose than plea for help. As he took the stage, he picked up a guitar, and the band introduced itself with the first cut from the new album, a heavy, beating drone that conjured scenes from a world without man. The fans packed-in and prepared for a great show.
In the 30 years since worldwide attention with his hit single “Cars,” Numan has endured the typical ups-and-downs of watershed rock-star moments. He has discarded the neon lines of bathroom-grade cocaine and skinny ties in favor of techno-inspired rock, replete with dyed black hair and motor-oil eyeliner.
More notably within that time, Numan has enhanced his synthetic sounds with even more volume, more depth and distortion, taking heavy cues from fellow industrial-rockers Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. And in each pulsating, minor chord change, each mysterious lyric, the sound grows infinitely heavier. Cars? More like weaponized tanks.
Machine-heavy and sluggish, the band marched through numerous new hits for a frenzied fanbase. A nod to the clientele: If you were here, you were here in spades — such devoted fans from all walks of life. Jackets with unnecessary zippers. Black fedora hats. Cat-eye contacts. Ponytails. Aging Bikers. Hedge Fund managers. A peculiar person dressed like Edward Scissorhands dressed like Freddy Krueger. People who grew up with Numan in the ’80s. The younger generation that discovered him during his move into industrial dance. Numanoids crept out from under the covers and let their freak flags fly. And Numan saluted them with one head-turning jam after another; the energy that the crowd delivered only fueled the fire of his performance.
At 56, Gary still owns the stage. “Everything comes down to this,” he sings and the fans chant right along with him. The music pulsates and much of the ’80s panache of earlier albums has been stripped away in favor of gloomy, mechanized hooks and somber lyrics, while the veneer of piston-pumping synths make the room throb as the fans float arms high into the air in anticipation of the next big gothic wave.
Numan has to maintain hydration by having water nearby; amazing to think he’s been going this strong for so long. But age hasn’t slowed the man down. Every machine needs its oil. And as long as Numan keeps on his current path and appeases his steady fanbase, this machine could well be running for another 30 years.