Concert Review: Gary Numan

He has dropped his new-wave persona and styling in favor of one much closer to those of lead singers for industrial rock bands.

One-hit wonders were a curiously common phenomenon in the 1980s. Arguably, one of the best examples of this occurrence was Gary Numan’s “Cars,” which released in 1979 and served as a harbinger of the New Wave movement. Numan’s smash hit featured synthesizers, drum machines, and agoraphobic lyrics, extolling the virtues of living in one’s car — where Numan feels safest of all. The music video demonstrates the aesthetic Numan was going for — he stands on a dark set, complete with densely caked makeup and a spacesuit-esque costume. Despite its promise, “Cars” remains Numan’s most well-known work; his subsequent releases have failed to garner the same attention.

Because of this, a concert by Numan in 2017 had a certain appeal — what had become of this new wave alien in the course of the past 30 years? The opening band, Me Not You, gives a hint. It is markedly dark — backed by moody guitars and heavy scifi-inspired synthesizers. Lyrics are largely concerned with mental health and paranoia. Me Not You is a punk band that puts on an archetypical punk show — it has an attitude reminiscent of the early days of Garbage. In short, it doesn’t seem like the type of band that would open for a music-scene veteran, especially one who is most well known for an ‘80s pop tune. Overall, its performance was solid but out of place.

However, it made more sense once the headliner began to perform. The moment Numan walked out on stage, he began to show how much he has changed during his long career. This tour was done in support of his 2017 release, “Savage (Songs from a Broken World),” and-many of his songs he performed come from that album. This album was heavily influenced by alternative and metal music and reflects a darker outlook from the singer. He has dropped his new-wave persona and styling in favor of one much closer to those of lead singers for industrial rock bands. His performance followed suit; Numan growled his lyrics and hovered around the microphone on a dark stage. It was evident he was doing his very best to embody the apocalyptic survivor featured on the cover of his newest release.

The album’s lead single, “My Name Is Ruin,” stood out brightly from the rest of the set. This song is much more synth and drum machine heavy, pairing better with his earlier releases. Numan’s pained vocals complimented the darker tone and got the crowd moving — a few even headbanging. Ultimately, the energy Numan tried to convey in his album is present in equal measure in his performance, and it gives his music a new life. It doesn’t hurt that he closed out the show with his biggest hit, “Cars,” to many cheers from the crowd. This was a great concert that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a blast from the past a la 1980. It felt almost like going back in time. Numan and the audience have left the apocalyptic wasteland and landed squarely back in the neon New Wave clubs.


Grade: A
Date: October 28, 2017
Location: The Observatory North Park

Photo Courtesy of Esra Elhendy

5 thoughts on “Concert Review: Gary Numan

  1. You need to get out more, Numan was definitely not a one hit wonder. This is a guy that sold out Wembly. He has also influenced musicians such as Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson. As far as his changed persona, that has been a gradual change over the years culminating to the release of the fantastic album, Splinter which has had many a play in this household. Can’t wait to see him in Detroit this week.

    1. He was a one-hit wonder. (A two-hit wonder in the UK, perhaps). His current “persona” has changed much over the past 15 years as he’s tried to angle off the success of bands like Nine Inch Nails, triggered because Trent Reznor offered him an opening to a younger audience.

      1. Are Friends Electric and Cars were both UK number ones so please stop this “one hit wonder” stuff. His persona hasn’t changed much in 23 years I’d say.

        1. I mentioned his two hits in the UK. So, a “two-hit” UK wonder, one-hit American wonder. Averaged out to a one and one-half hit wonder, or thereabouts.

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