Gary Numan: synth pioneer and resurrected man. And loving it.
Numan rose to fame at the head of the 1970s electronic music wave, then fell from grace as grunge and rock and other stuff took centre stage. And then the power of the synth was reharnessed and Numan rose again: heavier, darker and — if a packed house at Melbourne’s Forum is anything to judge by — once more hugely popular.
Last night’s gig showcased the past and the present. It opened with a playing of tracks from the album The Pleasure Principle, released in 1979 and the first by Numan as a solo artist. Numan took the centre console last night with two others also on keys plus a drummer and bass, and it was the rhythm section who underpinned the evening with their massive, um, rhythm. Add three or more layers of synth bass and soundscape over that and there were times when it felt as if the music was reaching inside to rip out lungs. Having a fake night sky arcing over the Forum’s faux ruins with Greek gods in attendance just made some of the tracks all the more surreal as the synths soared and the drum-bass combo thundered.
The album was put to bed with its hit single, ‘Cars’. A quick transition and two keyboards have been put to bed: Numan had the mic and there was an electric guitar and a gorgeously heavy rendition of ‘Down in the Park’ indicated a change of gear. That was then, this is now: great blasts of modern-day Numan, heavy on the Jagged album, brought the crowd and the gig alive as nostalgia was blown out the windows. Almost. The last tune of the main set was ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and oh, the answer had to be yes, or at least, at this point in the night, electrified. A three-song encore finished it off nicely.
Numan was in fine fettle: clad in black, mop of black hair over his pale face, and an artist at the top of his game. At the top of his game and loving it. He paid homage to late bassist Paul Gardiner who played with Numan on Pleasure Principle and in Numan’s preceding band Tubeway Army but otherwise had little to say other than ‘thanks for coming’. Sometimes a chat is nice, but sometimes it just as enjoyable to be able to sink into the music and let it do the talking, and last night was like that: the set flowed and enervated and enthralled, the band were energetic, the lighting superb, the crowd totally into it. And Numan, smiling, whether crouched over the keyboard or playing guitar or prowling with just the microphone, was the consummate performer. The pleasure principal.