Opening with new song, the throbbing industrial Ghost Nation from hotly anticipated album Savage, Gary Numan is joined on stage by a standard rock band set up of lead, bass guitar and drummer as well as DJ decks and synths. His voice is clear and clean against the muted beats and dirty growls. Topping and tailing every track is an explosion of rapturous applause from fans some of whom have shadowed him on his journey to bring an album from inspiration, to studio, to stage.
Savage was produced using an advanced form of crowd funding: Numan reliably attended his studio every day to write and record all whilst being streamed live to contributing fans. He handed over some creative decisions and suggestions to these remote partners. The fear with a project like this is that it could become little more than the creative whim guided by a democratic lowest common denominator, what this project birthed could not have been properly conceived until it was performed live.
Gary Numan’s career has been marked by strange mile stones, his marriage to fan club member Gemma O’Neill, who declared at age 16 to her teacher, something along the lines of, “ I don’t need to get a job, I’m going to marry Gary Numan”. They had not yet met. Ever since the Smash Hits years the tabloid media paid more attention to his eccentricities than his music, his blue eyebrows, his love of flying helicopters, or his eventual alleged marital problems.
He influenced a musical movement forcing an evolution in synth music from its early inception in the late ‘70s allowing artists to make music without a full band, to goth tinged darkwave of the ‘80s.
The spectrum of synth pop divided with synth pop becoming chart topping with bands like Yazoo, OMD and the Human League, Numan departed into a more goth tinged, near industrial sound. His music filled with the imagery of science fiction and film noir. Bands like Depeche Mode closely followed suit opting instead to colour in their music with romance and religious overtones.
Influencing artists like Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails, and becoming one of the most keenly sampled artists his music had a life of its own. Nine Inch Nails did invite Numan on stage for the London date of their NIN/JA tour but as the teacher becomes the student, the material that Numan had been performing up to that point on albums like Pure and Jagged could be compared to Reznor’s work from ten years earlier.
Notoriously retiring and shy, Numan seems released, disengaging the microphone from the stand and making full use of the stage, casting shapes up to the gallery, crouching down to the pit. Both Numan and his band are clothed in a uniform of some fictional post-apocalyptic desert scape. Sun bleached utilitarian and frankly perfect for surviving a sweltering Brixton stage. The visuals add constant interest and reinforcement of the album videos and branding, close ups of industrial decay which mirror organic shapes, human forms in exhausted Christ poses. Numan’s voice carries without wavering in his distinctive style which oscillates between a defeated whimper and a human outcry.
His voice is never more beautiful than on Bed Of Thorns where a new restraint draws the audience in. This song in particular could easily be confused with current day Depeche Mode, who have followed a similar musical trajectory. Performing Savage live draws attention to how Numan touches on elements of world music. It feels like there was more scope for incorporating earthy elements, and where they do peak through with elegant eastern style vocal ‘swaras’ or organic percussion which adds texture.
Numan intersperses classic material early in with Down In The Park. He waves out to the audience, flailing his arms in a mock SOS which is quickly echoed back en masse by adoring fans. What an excellent thing at this stage in his career to be seen, to be heard to be loved.
Savage is a project with a distinctive narrative of rebirth, or perhaps, reclamation from disaster. This could be an allegory for Numan’s music or his life experiences. His energy remains consistent and infectious throughout the set, filling the stage with his presence.
The pulse of a faint tick underpins a fragile and stirring vocal performance on Mercy. His voice left out in the open, exposed, is delicate and soulful. The stage streams with red laser lights before blooming into a crimson haze of warning for the dark, sexy throbbing disco-esque Love Hurt Bleed. Love Hurt Bleed has a powerful hook which will establish it as an industrial and goth dance floor essential.
Taking a moment between songs to speak to the audience he is able to enjoy a riotous hit of appreciation from the crowd. He introduces a petite blond girl to the stage, his daughter 11-year-old Persia Numan who accompanies him on my Name Is Ruin. The juxtaposition of her tiny frame and wispy white blond hair and angelic, soft, choral vocal adds to the story being crafted to accompany the album. Numan only breaks character briefly as he visibly kvells with a gush of love and grips her in a ‘Papa bear’ hug.
He punches through a pretty straight version of Cars in which he steps to the rear of the stage to glide through an Aeolian, cosmic synth solo while he continues his fevered dance.
A lattice of white lights create a geometric cage around his silhouette as he picks up his guitar for the first time this evening for A Prayer for the Unborn. A blood red ultrasound dominates the screens as he raises the guitar over his head in triumph. Is this a song for his children? We’ve heard his extraordinary daughter sing (he has every right to grab a little credit)!
A standing ovation from the seats and a raucous chant from the pit beg him back on stage, his return guaranteed by the exclusion of Are Friends Electric. He addressed the audience, “I have to say it’s been a very big year for me. It is you who makes it happen for me.” He is clearly affected as the whole venue rises in a chant of ‘Nu-man’. “I just want to say thank you very much”. As Films starts the video screens flash with movie countdown test cards in a signal of anticipation. What will come next from this rejuvenated star?
The UK leg of the Savage tour continues hitting capital cities in continental Europe and concluding with multiple dates across the USA.
Photography by Belle Piec and Live Review by Sarah Sievers at Gary Numan, Brixton Academy 14th October 2017