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Gary Numan @ El Rey Theatre 11/04/10
Photo of Gary Numan taken by Jason Persse
If there is any burden that comes with being a seminal artist, it’s the slavish obsession and attention perpetually paid to the seminal art. For pioneering UK electronic artist Gary Numan in America, it all revolves around his timeless hit song, “Cars.” Taken from his 1979 album “The Pleasure Principle,” it’s one of the first songs to introduce electronic music to the American masses, reaching #9 on the US charts in early 1980.
All of which made Numan’s stop at the El Rey Theatre on his current “Pleasure Principle Tour 2010” tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of his groundbreaking release a blast of retro nostalgia as well as a celebration of Numan’s storied career. Most Americans and casual music listeners only know him for “Cars.” But Numan’s continued popularity in Europe coupled with a younger audience derived from his close association with disciple Trent Reznor pulled an impressive crowd of hardcore fans ranging from pre-teens to white-haired couples in their 60s. He made a point to play to them all over the course of a nearly 2-hour set.
While a disgruntled fan behind me grumbled about Numan not sticking to the original sequence of “The Pleasure Principle,” the artist and his well-rehearsed band truly brought the record to life. They even had fun with it, starting the show with instrumental outtake “Random” (found on the recently released 30th anniversary expanded edition) before segueing into traditional opener “Airlane.” Cruising through perennial fan favorites “Film,” “M.E.” and the deceptively funky “Observer,” Numan did save “Cars” for the end of “The Pleasure Principle” portion of this show. The crowd didn’t seem to mind. While the song did get the dance floor moving, it was far from the highlight of the night. These were serious Numan fans, and they were about to really get their fix.
Over the second half of the show, the concert turned into nothing less than “Numan Comes Alive.” Cranking out much heavier (and admittedly Nine Inch Nails influenced) newer numbers like “The Fall” and “Halo,” he abandoned his keyboard for a guitar and grand rock god poses. Younger fans were energized by the more recent music, singing along to the songs that would sound right at home on KROQ between Marilyn Manson and Linkin Park.
But it was encore classics like “Down in the Park,” “I Die You Die” and especially the highlight of the night, a radically reworked version of “Are Friends Electric?” that truly galvanized all in attendance. The latter even featured what I’m pretty sure is the only time I’ve heard an American crowd sing the synthesizer melody instead of the words back at the stage, much to the amusement of Numan.
For a show based around 30-year-old nostalgia, the ever iconic Gary Numan delivered an engaging and inspired set that proved him to be more than just one of the most influential electronic musicians of all-time, but gloriously and aggressively relevant in 2010. — Scott T. Sterling