A lively, multi-generational crowd made it out to the Granada Theater last night to catch pioneering electronic musician Gary Numan. The nearly sold-out crowd was treated to an energetic set that judiciously mixed in old and new favorites that spanned Numan's four decade long career.
The set list concentrated on Numan's most recent effort, 2013's Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind), but enough chestnuts from the '80s were thrown in to placate the well lubricated throng. After "I Am Dust" (the opening song from Splinter), Numan launched into "Metal," one of the standout tracks from 1979's The Pleasure Principle. Next up was Splinter's "Everything Comes Down to This" followed by "Films" from The Pleasure Principle.
By interspersing his more popular material with the new songs, Numan succeeded in engaging the crowd throughout the show. Interestingly, back in the '80s, Numan's stage persona was always remote, robotic and distant, but nowadays, he's a stage-roaming neo-nerd. And although his dancing reminds one more of Elaine on Seinfeld than anyone with a remote sense of rhythm, Numan's stage presence is undeniable.
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Swaying to the symphonic synthesizer riffs of "Down in the Park," Numan was blissfully in unison with his unique blend of the dark subject matter and chipper pop hooks. Indeed, that is what has always made Numan's best material stand out: the ability to sound bleak even when things are obviously going pretty damn well.
Of course, Numan played "Cars" and the crowd went predictably crazy, but Numan's treatment of his mega-hit was interesting in that he never let the song overtake the singer. Although Numan's vocals have always been a love it or hate it proposition, his sneering robotics served up "Cars" as if it were just another song in the set, just a poppy little number about automobiles.
By night's end, the only disconcerting thing about the show was that the new material had a tendency to ape Nine Inch Nails, a band obviously influenced by Numan himself. Perhaps his friendship with NIN's Trent Reznor has fostered a kind of father-follows-son mentality, but such is minor quibbles on an otherwise amazing show.
Gary Numan may have been an acquired taste back in the late '70s and early '80s, but his best material is enthrallingly transcendent and continues to influence a wide variety of bands in many different genres. Even if the guy can't dance, his music still inspires folks to do so. Numan is the geek who succeeded, the nerd who has made more money than the jocks, the still skinny kid who can mold cold, metallic bleeps into emotional declarations for the disenfranchised.