By John Curley
Gary Numan has treated his fans in New York City to three shows featuring complete performances of three classic albums at the Gramercy Theatre on East 23rd Street. On Tuesday, May 10th, Numan performed Tubeway Army’s 1979 album Replicas. On the following night, Numan ran through the entirety of his most successful album, 1979’s The Pleasure Principle. And he completed his run in Manhattan on Thursday, May 12th by doing 1980’s Telekon all the way through. I attended the second show, on May 11th, the one that featured The Pleasure Principle. The show was sold out, and Numan and his excellent band delivered a heavy-duty performance that pleased the audience and received an ecstatic response.
The 35-minute opening set was delivered by the Los Angeles-based I Speak Machine. They are a duo comprised of Tara Busch and Maf Lewis. Busch plays synthesizers and does vocals while Lewis, a filmmaker, provides the visuals that accompany the performance. At the Gramercy Theatre, a 13-minute zombie film was shown during the start of I Speak Machine’s set while Busch provided atmospheric sounds to accompany the visuals. Busch creates what could be considered soundscapes as opposed to actual structured songs. The performance was extremely loud, used too much distortion, and was filled with off-kilter sounds. Busch did not vocalize until the credits began to run on the film. Once the film ended, the performance shifted to focus on Busch’s synth playing and vocalizing. The most enjoyable part of the performance was the last bit, in which Busch incorporated some of Numan’s massive hit “Cars” and sang the synth riff. Busch did receive a nice hand from the crowd when the performance concluded.
Prior to Numan and his band taking the stage, a recording of Numan’s song “Asylum” was played and was accompanied by spotlights and then strobe lights shining into the crowd. The light show was a preview of what was to come. The lights added much to the show, whether they were aimed at the crowd or backlighting the musicians to great effect.
Numan and the band then took the stage to a thunderous cheer from the crowd. In addition to Numan (lead vocals, synthesizer, and guitar), the band includes Steve Harris (guitar), Richard Beasley (drums), Tim Muddiman (bass), and David Brooks (keyboards). Numan began his 90-minute set with the instrumental “Airlane.” Numan was playing synthesizer and was quite effectively backed by pounding bass and drums. The band rocked through the track as strobe spotlights were trained on the crowd. It was a very effective opening to their set.
A rip-roaring version of “Metal” followed. The band kicked it up a notch to provide suitable backing for Numan’s otherworldly lead vocal. At one point during “Metal,” the stage went black save for the strobe spotlights that were focused on Numan at center stage. That received a big reaction from the crowd. A storming take on “Films” followed that featured the band firing on all cylinders as they were backlit by rotating strobe spotlights. It was really trippy and got a nice hand from the crowd.
An error near the start of the performance of “Tracks” caused the band to stop the song. Numan joked about the mistake and then restarted the song. It featured propulsive drums and synthesizer as well as a halting vocal by Numan.
The performance of “Complex” was amazing. It highlighted Numan’s disaffected lead vocal and his synth playing at the start of the song. The portion of the show dedicated to The Pleasure Principle came to a close with an extremely heavy take on Numan’s biggest hit, “Cars.” It featured crunching guitar and throbbing bass as Numan fronted the band at the start to sing the lead vocal and then went behind the synth near the end to close out the song. It received a massive hand from the crowd.
“Down In The Park” featured shimmering keyboards backing Numan’s halting vocal. There was a nice piano bit near the end of the song before the full band kicked in again to finish the song. “We Are Glass” was absolutely explosive, as orange strobe spotlights flashed on and off with increasing intensity and speed as the song built to a crescendo. And the highlight of Numan’s set was probably the performance of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” It was incredibly heavy duty and quite loud until the band slammed to a stop at one point to allow Numan to deliver some of the vocal with no backing. And then, the band kicked right back into the song. It received a big cheer from the crowd. The main set closed out with an outstanding take on “I Die: You Die” that featured great keyboard playing backing Numan’s vocal. It was incredibly intense as strobe spotlights pulsated faster and faster as the song picked up pace.
The two-song encore featured an excellent version of “Everyday I Die” that had the band blasting away while being backlit by a frenetic strobe-light show. The final song of the night, “Pure,” was intense and quite industrial sounding but with Numan’s trademark halting vocal. The audience gave Numan and the band a massive cheer as they exited the stage.
Numan’s onstage demeanor these days is considerably more demonstrative than it was at the time that he recorded The Pleasure Principle. And his sound has gotten heavier. Because of Numan's growth as an artist, the performance of the 1979 album seemed fresh, new, and intense.
Numan will be playing three shows at The Metro in Chicago from May 15th to 17th. He then heads to Durham, NC for three appearances at Moogfest from May 19th to 21st. The North American shows conclude with three shows at the Opera House in Toronto from May 23rd to 25th. Numan returns to his native UK for a series of shows that begin with a September 15th date in Sheffield. Full tour dates can be found at http://www.garynuman.co.uk/shows/.
The set list was as follows:
Down In The Park
Me! I Disconnect From You
I’m An Agent
We Are Glass
Remind Me To Smile
Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
I Die: You Die
Everyday I Die