I have a bit of a soft spot for hearing good synth pop played very loud, and live. In recent years I’ve had the pleasure of seeing OMD, John Foxx, Heaven 17 and Depeche Mode do just that. I’ve never seen Sir Gareth of Numan even though he plays in Manchester on an annual basis. I’ll be honest I’ve always seen that as something a hermetically sealed world, Gary Numan will always sell out (as he does tonight) whether I show up or not. Nevertheless something nags at me that I ought to see him, and this show, doffing a cap to the 25th birthday of Mcr Academy which he has sold out countless times, seems him revisiting his imperial phase (Replicas, The Pleasure Principle and Telekon). So I enter the Church of Numan – it is a bit like that -the Numanoids are out in force, clad head to toe in black and all sporting Numan t-shirts of varying vintage – they all seem to know each other but nevertheless there is a friendly and welcoming atmosphere and I guess new converts are always welcome.
I’m delighted to discover that Liverpool band Outfit are the support band, of whom I’m already a firm fan (their ‘Slowness’ LP is definitely in my Top 10 for 2015). I’m not sure some of the Numanati know what to make of their elaborate XTC/early Talk Talk/Prefab style sophisto-pop – although they get a big cheer once they apologise for not being Gary Numan – they play a truly brilliant set and they certainly make an impression on the people around me. I duly explain who the band are and recommend back catalogue to a few of the Numan faithful.
What does strike me is that all the while Outfit play, a large picture of Gazza circa 1981 (see picture) is looming over the stage which forms the centrepiece of the stage set. It is a bit ludicrous, a bit camp and that sets the scene for what is to come. The crowd gradually get up a football-style chant of NUUUMAAANN -and eventually the man himself takes to the stage.
It’s hard not to get swept up in the celebratory atmosphere, and from the get go what we get is an absolute masterclass in stagecraft. From where I’m standing I can just about see that jet black barnet, and gleaming teeth and some excellent shapes being thrown. I’ve seen so many shambling Indie bands of late I’ve forgotten what makes a truly great frontperson and Numan has it in spades. He deftly switches between Bowie-esque mime moves, occasionally strapping on a guitar or moving over to a bank of synths to add to the colossal buzz of Moogs and Korgs. He doesn’t engage in much banter, he doesn’t need to – there is a moment where he pauses briefly between songs – and the wave of applause and elation is almost overwhelming. It’s extraordinary.
The set is of course drawn from those three iconic albums – I half expect him not to play Cars, or Are Friends Electric- he could easily have left them out – in fact he plays both back to back toward the end of the set and to his credit he plays them (albeit with a new arrangement) with as much ooomph and energy as everything else.
The highlight is the final song, Jo The Waiter (in fact from the Tubeway Army album) played acoustic (as was the recorded version) which creates an unexpected singalong. Hearing him sing, without the synths and fx there is something of the psychedelic English whimsy about Numan’s compositions under the surface – he’s a sort of electro Syd Barrett underneath the neon.
Obviously a large proportion are the diehard Numanati, and a very friendly and affable bunch they are too – clearly devoted (they sing every word of alienation and isolation back at him) but also very polite and there is real community vibe – everywhere I go there are people comparing notes, making real world acquaintances previously only had on online forums – hmm..what does that remind me of?!
It made me think..
Gary Numan is a great songwriter, a true showman and a proper Pop Star. He keeps threatening to retire, and if he does he should teach stagecraft – something sorely lacking today. It was an absolute joy to watch a master at work. If anything I’d have liked to hear some ‘new’ – I believe Sir Gareth doesn’t do the nostalgia thing so often so I will make a note to see him next time around.