I tried to stand next to a tall person last Friday; thinking that I could secure a little bit of space around me with others less likely to attempt to push in and risk their view being obscured. My plan worked for all of 10 minutes when a group of friends in front of me were joined by more tall people. This meant I heard more of the evening’s support act than saw, but she still managed to win me over.
Kanga is a solo artist who contorted her way through her performance which included coiling the microphone cable around her in a way that reminded me of Francois Van Coke. A powerful voice accompanied by great electronic indie sounds and dramatic moves made for a captivating show, albeit zero usable photos of her.
Thankfully, following her set, the inevitable crowd shuffle commenced with the mass of bodies in the Roundhouse squeezing towards the bars, loos and closer to the stage. Football sounding chants of “Numan!” bounced about the crowd with increasing frequency as the anticipation built. There was a buzz of excitement when the house lights dimmed and the word “(R)evolution” began ‘burning’ into the screen forming the stage backdrop. It was the final night of Gary Numan’s UK tour celebrating 40 years since his first hit “Are Friends Electric” with Tubeway Army in 1979.
Regally strutting towards centre stage, Numan appeared to be arriving into his natural habitat. The shy, awkward and endearing man I’d seen at a Q&A earlier in the year had been left in the green room and stood before us was a post-apocalyptic rock star. Thundering into a popular track off his 2017 album “Savage” called “My Name Is Ruin” I found it impossible not to dance and sing along.
The idea of such an extensive catalogue of material being squashed into one set tempted me to do a little homework. This show was the second of two so I did a quick search for the previous night’s set list so I’d know what I was in for – and I was not disappointed. A great mix of classics and newer material, Numan churned out favourite after favourite without so much as stopping to say hello for about an hour and a half. He was by no means disconnected from the crowd though; he worked every inch of the stage and made us all feel like we were the reason he was there.
His intensity and passion never abated. His dance moves were spasmodic in an almost possessed manner and his dominant presence would have been impressive for a performer half his age. The screen back drop had a mixed display of lights, images and animations as well as the music videos for a few songs. As the bridge of the inevitable rendition of “Cars” began Numan moved to the back of the stage to play his stack of keyboards with dramatic flair. He turned to face the audience while the video for the track played showing his much younger face. It was quite a sight to see and a wonderful moment of celebration for a career spurred on by the furious loyalty of fans.
The band he played with was also fully immersed in the drama, well, at least half of them were. I could barely see the drummer, and was distracted from the keyboardist by the captivating guitar and bass duo. The lead guitarist was stationed on the left of the stage but ventured over to the right occasionally, where I was, to play with the bassist. He appeared to be channelling a negative being, scowling, glaring and gesturing aggressively to the crowd. The bassist on the other hand seemed to embody a positive entity and his animations, while also dramatic, implied he was living his best life in that moment. Seeing their made up faces come together to play as a duo as well as with Numan was profoundly entertaining.
I was already feeling a little hoarse by the time one of my favourite songs started to play. “A Prayer for the Unborn” released in 2000 on the Album “Pure” gave me more of a reaction than I’d bargained for. I’d discovered a live version of this track only a few months ago and had a real emotional connection with it at the time, seeing it live with moving visuals and incredible lighting did make me cry a little. Surprisingly therapeutic, just like seeing Patti Smith perform “Beneath the Southern Cross” at this same venue, albeit with a less wet face this time.
Following this up with “Are Friends Electric”, Numan looked straight ahead and added an extra layer of sincerity with the tweaked line: “You see this means everything to me”. This of course elicited a massive cheer from the crowd before we resumed chanting along to the tune. By this point the calls of “Numan!” between songs were almost constant. The band finally relented and left the stage for only a couple of minutes before returning for an encore.
Numan was grinning like a mildly unstable Cheshire Cat and thanked us all for coming out. He made special mention of the fans that had stuck by him since the beginning of his career and applauded their courage since he’d tested them by releasing “two, maybe three, shit albums”. He was gracious, grateful and as happy to be there as the rest of us were. It was into this joyous atmosphere he debuted the title track from an album due for release next year: “Intruder”. He asked us not to be critical, since it was not a fully finished song, but he needn’t have worried. Sticking with the heavier sound of his later albums the track was very well received by the Roundhouse and has made me quite excited for the new album release.
Ending his encore, and the tour, with his acoustic guitar and a Tubeway Army track “Joe the Waiter” it was hard to believe two hours had passed. The band embraced and wore a bitter sweet look of sadness mixed with a sense of achievement. It seems cliché but there is such a strong connection between Numan and his fans and I could feel this familial sense absorbing into my experience too. Promising us he’d be back to tour “Intruder” around September I felt it would be a challenge to top this performance, but I knew I’d be back as long as Numan continued, and he shows no sign of slowing down. I look forward to screaming “Numan!” again until I can’t any more.