Gary Numan Fitzgerald's March 12, 2014
Though he'll be forever best known for "Cars," his enduringly popular hit recorded all the way back in 1979, Gary Numan has always been a man drawn toward the future, not the past. When most of his early contemporaries are cashing in on the rock-nostalgia circuit -- assuming they're doing anything at all -- Numan is writing and recording some of the best music of his long and influential career. Fresh off the release of last year's acclaimed Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind), the enigmatic Englishman is in the midst of a fresh creative peak, and his fans turned out to Fitzgerald's in force on Wednesday night to bask in the ethereal chill and industrial crunch of the innovator's electronic renaissance.
While Numan's early persona was deliberately cold, remote and mechanical, he proved far from robotic onstage at Fitz. As intense green lights flooded the audience, the singer took the mike dressed in a simple black T-shirt, sporting his traditional eyeliner and Bladerunner haircut. Rather than the emotionless automaton that many remember from his biggest hits, Numan instead played the part of a proper rock and roll front man on Wednesday. As his backing band disappeared into a sea of colored LEDs, Numan slithered and pouted his way through a set well-stocked with material from Splinter and his other 21st-century releases.
He's often thought of by many as primarily a songwriter or synth player, but Gary Numan can sing, too. The industrial pioneer's voice sounded surprisingly powerful on heavy, menacing new songs like "I Am Dust" and "Here in the Black," with the latter seemingly poised to become a singalong set staple. Nearly half of the night's set list was drawn from his most recent LP, and for the most part, the new stuff held up shockingly well alongside his most beloved classics.
It's funny: Numan's earliest work was a primary influence on Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, but it's the immediately recognizable influence of Reznor, Numan's friend and sometime-collaborator, that shines through clearly in his modern output. While the guitars may be heavier these days, though, feisty new tunes like "Love Hurt Bleed" were still classic Numan at their core, relying on huge synth-pop choruses to get asses moving.
Fans bopped around in whatever space they could manage on the crowded floor and balcony. Amongst them could be seen the unmistakable, mohawked visage of the Hates' Christian Kidd, showing off the same badass skeleton jacket he can be seen wearing on the cover of this week's Houston Press. If Kidd's generation of New-Wavers came hoping to hear the old stuff, all the essentials were in place, particularly a slow, devastating version of "Down In the Park" that DJ Screw himself would have certainly approved of.
"Cars" was unleashed, as well, but it was buried in the middle of the set -- almost an afterthought. It stood out anyway, so much poppier and more upbeat as it is than most of Numan's darker, more alienated music.
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A smoother stylistic fit with his crunchier, modern output were encore chestnuts "I Die: You Die" and "Are 'Friends' Electric," which were filled out considerably by Numan's onstage compatriots on bass and guitar. The latter featured verses stripped down to just Numan's voice and soft piano, making the soaring synths and strings on the choruses sound even bigger somehow.
The singer closed the night out with "My Last Day," a moaning downer from Splinter made no one forget the classics that had just come before. Of course, perhaps it wouldn't be Gary Numan at all if he went out on a high note. Better to leave us with a note of longing angst, bathed in shafts of white light, than to wrap up a show with a big, pretty bow. If he can keep producing new albums this intriguing, may he remain forever restless.
Personal Bias: Became a Numan convert a few years back when a friend played his White Noise double live LP.
The Crowd: Waitin' for the hits.
Overheard in the Crowd: "All I know is 'Cars.' I'm excited, though!"
Random Notebook Dump: It's always a pleasure when a touring act brings their own impressive lighting rig to Fitzgerald's. If one facet of the old club could stand a major upgrade, it's those red and blue cans.
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