sat 15/12/2018

Gary Numan, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Gary Numan, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

Gary Numan, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

The Mike Myers of Messiahs rises again, and again

His friends aren't all electric: Gary Numan uses real instruments these days

As Gary Numan strode out onto the stage last night, for the Shepherd's Bush leg of his Dead Son Rising tour, his black boots a-shining, his arms a-waving, his proto-emo knees a-bending, well, you couldn't say the crowd went insane, exactly - but they were very pleased to see him.

For a man whose career was said to be all but over a quarter-century ago, Numan has done a hell of a job ignoring the bad news. His albums of recent years (four since the millennium) have created a new surge of critical esteem, and he is now openly lauded and acclaimed (and covered) by a generation of new musicians.

If you're reading this then I'm going to assume you might already be a Gary Numan fan [I won't say that word...], and that you appreciate his music is not at all easy to describe (so cut me some slack). For everyone else, here's a stab. Though Numan earned his place pioneering rock music without guitars, big on the ambient - in an earth-calling, inter-planetary kind of way - generally created by looping synth material through guitar pedals, latterly he's cast off his most avant garde mannerisms. Which is not to say that the new stuff lacks epic scope: just that there are now some guitars. Even a real drummer. 

What Numan's playlist didn't sound, to my great surprise, was dated

The music is all over the place, in the good, post-modern, endlessly referential sense. Some of it sounds like a truck being choked into obedience on a cold morning. Some a sort of glam, pre-techno hedonism that ought to soundtrack a lost Martin Amis novel (or one of the ones that sadly wasn't). Some of it should have been in Lost Boys. And some of it is post-Apocalypse stuff for speeding across deserts in trucks (The Fast and the Fall-out? Where's Jerry Bruckheimer when you need him?). You wouldn't recommend it to epileptics, true believers or those cheerful fat Americans you get in so many places these days; but it's glowering, contemporary, cool and slick - with occasional bursts of heavy-duty theremin.

Perhaps the best way to explain Numan is to work backwards. If you invert the rock family tree, and give the branches a good shake, you'd be surprised how many Numanoids fall out [there, I've said it]. On last's night's hearing alone, I'd tag Rage Against The Machine, Beck, Queens of the Stone Age, System of a Down, Depeche Mode, of course, and Placebo (the last with a particularly obvious borrowing of Numan's vocal tone). Circumstantial, I grant you, but still... What Numan's playlist didn't sound, to my great surprise, was dated. Honestly, if I'd gone in there blind, I wouldn't have blinked. So to speak.

The Numanoids themselves, the die-hards, you can spot 'em at 500 yards. Which is to say, from Shepherd's Bush tube. If you looked at them you'd guess they were people who never warmed to Britpop, but find FatBoy Slim too chirpy and the Chemical Brothers a little soulless (also, it occurs to me now, not a bad way of figuring out Numan's music). Fashion-wise, there was a certain denial about the course of the last 20 years. 

Outside, for sure, it looked like a Twilight convention hosted by the Stasi. Inside, though, the gig was pretty eclectic: soulful, greying, hi-viz, Nu-romantic.. (the fans/the music). There were as many bald heads as pink bleach-jobs - and as many wigs, I'd wager. Most of the folks in the first-floor balcony seats (I had the choice) were wearing jackets; most of them were not leather. There were one or two "biker" couples, but their leathers suggested they'd decided to skip the rain in the badlands of West London and brave the Hammersmith & City line instead. The lady to the immediate left had more tattoos (on display) than me, but spent the warm-up act showing family photos to her companion. And I'd swear I saw Lembit Öpik (where, exactly, does one go after a Cheeky Girl? And don't say Romania).

For devotees, though, it must be said, they have the shortest, shittest chant in the book. "Nooo-m'unn! Nooo-m'unn!" - complete with one-armed finger-point. It was like being in the terraces at Milwall. You'd think they might at least branch out into "Numanoid, Numaoid, Numanooooooiid!" (or "Numan, Numan, Numan - oid! oid! oid!"). But no. There were times when it almost seemed - heaven forfend - they might be taking the piss. Oh, and they can't clap along any better than any other tribe in Fandom.

Actual Messianic imagery was not in short supply

But the gig. What with the ethereally unfussy vox and the cosmonautical hand-gestures, Numan controlled the Empire like Darth Vader... if Darth Vader had looked like Mike Myers... playing Jesus... with a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Rob Zombie... in a 3D space simulator. The lead guitarist - if such a designation has meaning in Numania - was sporting a Flock of Seagulls road-kill transplant on his forehead. And it seemed like, at any moment, there might be a guest appearance by Derek Zoolander ("Numan. He's so hot right now!"). I missed the Eighties, and have no regrets. But this was like the Eighties, only with class. 

The screen at the back did its digital thing, from static footage of days of green and black [we're talking Olivetti here, not conscience-rich chocolate] to hi-res knock-offs of Caravaggio (now with added "vag"). There was a current-affairs montage, complete with Abu Hamza and those Westboro Baptist mentals who picket soldiers' funerals. Actual Messianic imagery was not in short supply.

Somehow, though, the gig didn't quite come off. The music was urgent and loud, Numan was talkative and personable, the fans were keen, the lights were enough to stun an elephant, and the bigger numbers, like "Sacrifice", did get a few hands waving. But the rock attitude and stadium theatrics seemed belied by the little-theatre-that-could; the applause generous but not ecstatic; something lacking in the atmosphere. Mass hysteria, perhaps.

It was, nonetheless, Gary Numan on fine form, and a bona fide cool gig.  Cool, at least, until he brought his daughters on stage and had the audience sing them "Happy Birthday".

  • Gary Numan's Dead Son Rising tour continues until 11 December

Listen to 'Dead Son Rising'


Comments

Although I appreciate the effort this reviewer has made to tackle someone with a 30 year back catalog of music and as many musical changes as a DJ at Glastonbury, there is one major point that is missed, and that is that most people at the gig didnt know the new material at all. In many ways (for me and my 10 year old daughter included) this was the ultimate listening party for the latest album "Dead Son Rising". I bought mine at the gig (digi pack with DVD) and considering its inspired by cast off material Mr Numan has been collecting over the last few years, its hugely satisfying and has that elusive cross genre appeal Bowie has enjoyed ever since he called himself Ziggy. Admittedly, this wasn't the ideal situation to see Numan in for the first time, but you cannot deny the power of the man, the music of the legend he has carved for himself, and theres still bundles of humility in him too.

A good review on balance, compared to my experience anyway. Jeff made a good point in that: "most people at the gig didnt know the new material at all" ... which would go some way to explaining the slightly subdued response from the audience to what was, imho, a great gig showcasing Gary's best musical output for decades. Gary does have a difficult balancing act to get right now though: * There are a lot of young people who only know him 2nd-hand from the retro scene and cover versions; this is split further as some like the synth-pop "Cars" sounds; and others like the industrial-goth "Metal" NiN sounds. * There are those older fans who have - as the reviewer comments - stubbornly refused to move with the times & just want to hear the same-old same-old, turning up in their clone-clothing, thinning side-partings and ever-expanding waistlines. * And then there are those of us who like some of his music, but not all, and really like this new direction he's taking (and thank 'God' for Ade Fenton!) Ya pays ya money, yer takes yer choice :-) Me? If he carries on with this sound, I'll carry on paying.

Interesting review.... I was at the gig near the front of the stage and thoroughly enjoyed it. Great mix of old and new material, never heard him open with "Down in the Park" before & the true fans did the appropriate waving etc. Didnt think the sound qualtity was brilliant, but made up for by Numans movement and stage prescence nearing on balet at some stages. A very mixed audience of old and young, fans from Are Friends Electric days now bringing their children along. The guy has been going for over 30 years and is still going strong releasing some of the best material ever albeit to a somewhat niche market, long may it continue......

I was at this gig, I have been a fan of Garys for many years and have seen him live countless of times. This gig was amazing, I love the new songs and the old. As far as I could see everyone there had a fantastic time. Although some people were not dressed as 'normally' as others would like, who's to say whats 'normal'? Garys fans have to be the most loyal of all and he repays us well, his new album is FANTASTIC!

Did the reviewer check his facts ! I have been seeing Gary Numan live since 1979 and he ALWAYS has had a "real"drummer !

Not sure why so many folks are bashing this review, I've been a Numanoid since the beginning and this review seems fair. So what if the author got a few facts wrong and made a few sarcastic comments? Numan is not a deity to be worshipped, he's an entertainer to be enjoyed. And according to this review, Numan is doing his job quite well. I agree!

WELL SAID!!!

From the few links I have viewed of "Dead Sun Rising" I must say I cannot wait to see Gary performing in December at The Assembly, Leamington Spa. I have also been a fan of Gary's since 1979. Gary seemed to make the hair's on the back of your neck stand up the minute you heard his music and that moody look! . I think it shows true guts to embark on something new as well as keeping the old image alive....Bring it on Gary!

A poor review by some one that obviously went with set ideas. Of course not many people knew tha new stuff it has only just been released on the day of the first show in limited form. I too was on the first floor balcony, I presume you are the bloke sat to my right picking his nose all night? Why such a negative attitude against the fans? So what if we're older, balder and in many cases fatter? We were all there to worship ourlordgodgarynuman and did so. The set was dark and moody, Numan commanded the stage with more confidence than I've ever seen him before and everyone I spoke to after the show loved it. Stick to reviewing the Spice girls Mr. Ash leave us alone.

That is brilliant, in the review you said some of the fans looked like the last 20 years never happened, then one fan above tells you to go back to reviewing The Spice Girls??! You couldn't make it up!!

as a radio amateur i like the morse code on the track big live transmission a bit like the morse on kraftwerks radio activity every fan with a ham radio licence will like this dsr is utterly brillant 10 out of 10

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