Tonight Numan returns to Manchester as part of the ‘Back To The Phuture’ package that that’s been rescheduled from last December. It also includes MOTOR, ex-Depeche Moder Alan Wilder’s project, Recoil, and, last but not least, Richard H (Cabaret Voltaire/Warp) and radio presenter Mark Jones with their metal machine disco show.
The doors open early tonight at six which means that annoyingly I miss the first three-quarters of MOTOR’s set. A duo comprising of Parisian Mr. No and Bryan Black from Minneapolis; they come with an incredible pedigree that includes remixing the likes of Marilyn Manson, Throbbing Gristle and most recently, Depeche Mode. Their own music is a rigorous techno fabricated from clanging rhythms and squelching basslines, which elicits a few cheers from the gathering crowd, and certainly wins them new friends.
The moment the crowd catch sight of Alan Wilder there is a loud cheer. Now eight albums into their career, the two members of Recoil drift through a program called ‘A Strange Hour’ which they ‘play’ entirely on Apple laptop computers. It’s not much to look at so to alleviate the dullness of this sight they’ve set up a large screen on which a sequence of bizarre art films are projected to compliment the music. In effect it’s a live soundtrack set to a series of unsettling images that works surprisingly well. It’s a formless and mangled concoction that’s dark and ominous, but also very, very compelling.
By the time the charismatic figure of a black clad Gary Numan slinks across the Academy stage to takes his place at the microphone stand he’s virtually obscured by thick clouds of dry ice. Only seconds pass when Numan’s band launch into a brooding version of ‘Down In The Park’ and of course as soon as his devoted army of Numanoids recognise the opening bars of this great song, they react with a mix of emotion equally divided between awe and sheer admiration. And quite rightly so, the presentation is spectacular with powerful austere white beams strafing the stage, and, behind the band, a wall of coloured lights creates futuristic patterns which illuminates the stage with a cold menace. Add to this the deep and sinister groove of the music and it really is a breathtaking sight.
The next number ‘Films’ from the groundbreaking ‘Pleasure Principle’ album, follows seamlessly and a fit and healthy looking Numan throws himself around the stage with some abandon while his incredibly tight band blast though the song. He’s also unable to stop flashing some broad smiles through his scowl to show he’s really enjoying himself up there on the Academy stage. There’s a real surprise when Numan straps on his guitar and charges through Tubeway Army’s debut single ‘That’s Too Bad’ complete with thumping bass, searing synthesisers. It’s this rocker that initiates pockets of dancing to break out in the audience and it’s this point that the show starts in earnest.
There’s no denying that Numan has a powerful and entrancing presence, and the crowd, who are now completely in Numan’s grip, greet each prime piece of electro-pop that’s played like a long-lost electric friend. Obviously the biggest welcome is for a beautiful piano led ‘Are Friends Electric?’ It seems strange to think that Numan inadvertently predicted a little of the future in that with the rise of the internet, many of us have acquired ‘electric friends’ though it’s true that the vast majority of them aren’t as eloquent as Numan’s creation.
The show is brought to a close with an aggressive rendition of ‘Pure’ which leaves the crowd satisfied but still clamouring for more music. They don’t have to wait long before Numan and his band return with a great three song encore that includes a machine-tooled version of hit single ‘Cars’. It’s strange to think how unusual Gary Numan’s music was when it first saw the light of day over thirty years ago. I’m glad to say to say that Numan’s musical experiments were a complete success and these steely creations have stood the test of time. Happily the last electrician is still making sparks.
Review/photos by Phil King