Gary Numan forges new electronic music path with online concert experience

Sophie Odart and Stabal Music/Courtesy

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Since the late ‘70s, Gary Numan has been a pioneer of electronic and alternative music. From his work with Tubeway Army to his immense solo success, the English rocker has continuously broken barriers with the uniqueness of his voice and use of synths as the primary instrument in much of his music. On June 17, Numan treated fans to an online concert performance of his newest album, Intruder. Marrying elements of hardcore, goth and industrial music,  as well as sprinkling in a few other tunes that propelled him to fame, the singer proved that he’s still got the showman qualities that made his shows 40 years ago truly spectacular.

The stage was cloaked in a dark red fog, a droning guitar piercing through the silence as the intro to “Intruder” began. Like a professional concert video made for TV, the camera panned between band members before landing on Numan. “I could listen to you scream,” he sang in his distinct, robot-esque voice, sounding no different from how he was on his debut album. The somber notes in his voice resonated with the dramatic and powerful instrumentals, and the emotional hardcore elements of the song shined through with every heavy riff. The lights would go completely dark whenever the song had a pause and come back on with renewed force when the music resumed. The dark synths that Numan had been experimenting with on previous albums have undoubtedly reached maturation, coinciding with the flashing strobe lights.

Numan continued with another hard-hitting electronic and industrial track, “Halo,” from his 2006 album, Jagged. The dim blue stage lights illuminated the three vertical red stripes painted on Numan’s face as he thrashed around the stage. Many of the songs the artist performed bordered on metal, evoking memories of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.

Some songs, such as “The Gift” and “A Black Sun,” though still dark and dismal, featured moments of softness, whether it was soft piano work or muted guitars. Numan wasn’t as brash on these songs as he was on many others, but he was impactful nonetheless. 

To break up the desolation and darkness, Numan peppered in a few throwbacks throughout the performance. Up first and quite early in the set was “Cars,” Numan’s breakthrough solo hit. What was unique about the performance was that the normally light song was played in the style of Numan’s current musical endeavors and persona, showcasing his band’s adaptability. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” was another highlight, still instantly recognizable despite being another heavier take on the original. “Down in the Park” was more distorted and slightly harder to make out, but still exuded the ‘80s synths and breakdowns Numan was (and still is) known for.

The singer’s performance truly brought out the beauty of his more recent music; the songs blended the often rougher stylings of industrial music with gothic synths, preventing the sound from becoming too overwhelming. Numan’s animated prancing around the stage matched the energy of the instrumentals and commanded the stage, even in the darkness. 

Listening to Numan’s early work, most would never have expected him to have such aggressive, gloomy elements in his discography, but that simply shows his versatility in creating new and unique music. His voice fits perfectly with both the lighter ‘80s music and the dark electronic work he has dived into in more recent years (though the former suits him slightly better).

Throughout the 90-minute show, Numan and his backing band were beyond energetic, flawless in execution and truly enjoying themselves playing the music they made. They even had a brief three-song encore, packed with pyrotechnics and ample screaming into the microphone. Numan’s headbanging and the dystopian nature of the stage were the perfect elements needed to bring his music to life, making the online show feel increasingly real as the time went by. The singer is still a force to be reckoned with, and seeing one of his live concerts with the same passion exhibited here will surely be a show to remember.

Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @callmepbj.