Gary Numan plays Trees on Thursday, Dec. 14.
Over the nearly 40 years Gary Numan has been recording and performing, he has made forays into punk, new wave, funk, jazz funk, R&B and straight ahead rock. Through all of these phases, his sweeping melodies, roaring hooks and introspective lyrics have kept fans, known as "Numanoids," packing concert halls.
Numan first found fame in 1979, when his band Tubeway Army and its synth hit, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” ruled the airwaves. It was No. 1 on the United Kingdom singles charts for all of May that year. In 1980, his single “Cars” reached No. 9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
Numan attempted a pop crossover on his own label beginning in the mid-'80s but saw little success and seemed on the road to becoming a has-been. But in 1994, he released the album Sacrifice, which had a darker, heavier, more brooding sound. It rejuvenated his career and ensured he'd keep the title he'd earned: “Godfather of Electronica.”
Since the mid-'90s, Numan has relied on the presence of a heavier electric guitar sound while keeping the synth flowing over albums such as Exile (1998), Pure (2000), Jagged (2006), Dead Son Rising (2011), Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind) (2013) and Savage (Songs from a Broken World), released Sept. 15.
Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, Prince, Lady Gaga, Marilyn Manson, The Basement Jaxx, The Sugarbabes and the Foo Fighters are among the artists who have sampled or covered Numan’s songs and claim him as an influence.
Numan, who lives in Los Angeles, recently spoke with the Observer about what's in store for the audience at Trees.
The new album has Middle Eastern flair. Why did you decide to go in that direction for Savage?
It’s because the album is taken from a book that I’m writing … about this post-apocalyptic, global-warming, desolated world, so I’ve been lifting ideas from that and turning them into songs. So the album is effectively a musical version of the novel that I’m still working on.
In it, eastern and western cultures have effectively merged. I tried to find a musical way of illustrating that particular concept. You have western music, but it’s literally littered with eastern influences and sound. I wanted to show the two cultures in some ways have very much become one thing.
The set list for the current tour is a nice mix of newer and older, popular material, with songs like “Metal” and “Remind me to Smile,” and, of course, “Down in the Park” and “Cars.” How do you go about constructing a set list?
We use four different set lists and rotate three or four songs each night. We ended up with seven different set lists. It’s still a mix of very early songs, a lot of the more recent stuff and very little from the bit in between.
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At recent shows, you've taken audience requests. Will that be the case in Dallas?
No, because we’ve got things pretty programmed. I decide the evening before what we’re going to play. In the morning … we program that into the laptop to make sure the right parts are in place. We’re not able to do any short-term changes with these shows.
Will you be doing much material from Splinter, Jagged Edge or Dead Son Rising?
We do two songs from Dead Son Rising. We do quite a lot from Splinter. I don’t think there’s anything from Exile. It’s quite a selection. From the early stuff, you got “Cars,” “Metal,” “M.E.,” “I Die: You Die,” “We Are Glass,” “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” I usually do five or six each night from the early songs.
What do you want the Dallas audience to take away from the Savage show?
I’ve never wanted these shows to be a retro experience. That’s kind of a needle in my eye. I would like people to obviously really enjoy where I am at the moment. Savage is a very important record for me. I want people to come away and think that [the new album] and me as an artist are relevant in today’s music scene. I’d like people to see how my legacy has fueled some of today’s bands while still enjoying some of my past hits.
8:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, Trees, 2709 Elm St., $25, sold out.