@ The O2 Academy, Leeds
I remember buying Are Friends Electric because (callow youth that I was) I’d never heard anything with that sound before. The gothy dirge wore thin after it was played to death on the radio as chart-land took Gary Numan to its heart and the single went into a box. That chart success made Gary’s Bowie-esque whine and obsession with alienation seem a bit uncool compared to the hardcore electronicists of the time. His love of light aeroplanes seemed laughable. His revenge was to come – thirty years later he is name-checked as inventor of a genre and seems to get cooler. Cars has been sampled a trillion times and even initial flop single, Down In The Park, is an anthem for alienated replicants. In the future someone may even set an exam question: “Did Gary Numan invent Goth? Discuss.”
Tonight is packed with men of a certain age bellowing “Nuuuu-maaaan” and alienation seems a long way away. Gary, a very youthful-looking fifty-three, lunges, spins, thrusts and poses frantically, hardly standing still. Shame that he looks like Michael McIntyre playing Trent Reznor on Stars In Your Eyes. But Trent owes his career to Gazza. The opener, Down In The Park sees the crowd ecstatic and Numan’s energy carries the more recent and less familiar material over the next ninety minutes. Far from the plodding synths, the last couple of decades have been full of guitar and industrial new wave over nearly twenty albums. Most folks only know a few songs and some are off his unreleased-so-far Dead Sun Rising. Needless to say the themes are generally dark and the mood serious, cracked only by some smiles from our replicant.
Lots of singing and pointing accompany 2000’s Pure and the whole is curiously involving. Distorted bits of video and liberal use of sombre lighting and dry ice give the atmosphere you’d expect, broken only by the strangely obvious 9-11 song (Absolution) and multi-screen video. The band is drums, synth, bass and guitar, driving things along in a metally / gothy / industrial way while Gary concentrates on leaping about and only occasionally picks up a guitar or prods a synth. A return to The Pleasure Principle is signalled by the reintroduction of synths and loss of metal churning; everyone is chanting and swaying to I Die You Die.
Cars drives them wild and I think back to the early eighties – were cars REALLY a symbol of alienation then? Are Friends Electric has a piano intro and crooning before the trademark chord pattern then returns to piano for the talky bits – its quite effective and the crowd is in bliss but all too aware there is nowhere to go from here but out in the street to buy bootleg T-shirts. The man in black has sustained them through twenty-five years of non-hits with a furious display of energy and belief in his songs. That, and a core sound that underpins many bands that came later, a motherlode of anomie.