Singer-guitarist-keyboardist Gary Numan is old enough — the guy just turned 56 — to have come of age during the time when punk rock emerged. Born in West London, Numan began recording in the late ‘70s and developed a unique sound that foreshadowed the industrial rock revolution of the late ’80s and early ‘90s. It was almost by accident that he added some Mini Moog (according to him, a synthesizer just happened to be in the studio and he decided to experiment with it) to his 1979 album Replicas. With its mix of punk and electronic music, the album became an underground hit and Numan hasn’t looked back.
The thing that stood about last night’s concert before a capacity crowd at the Beachland Ballroom was the extent to which Numan has maintained that initial punk rock ethos. Banging his head and regularly extending his arms to the ceiling as if he were some kind of injured bird trying to take flight, he put on a performance that was truly visceral (by the 90-minute concert’s end, you could see that his black T-shirt was completely soaked in sweat). Throughout the show, Numan squatted in front of the microphone as he sang, often hanging on to the microphone stand as if he were on the side of a cliff and it was the branch that kept him from falling to his death.
The concert featured a good mix of both old and new tunes. For the most part, the set featured his darker material. “Cars,” his big crossover hit from 1979/1980, was the one track that didn’t adhere to the formula. Though it sounded noisier than its studio version, it still had its distinctive pop hook. He and his four-piece band delivered the tune with an exuberance that was amplified by bright LED lights. But more often, Numan played in front of blinding strobes that made it difficult to stare directly at the stage. And the music was snarling mix of industrial rock that often buried Numan's thin voice. Dark purple lights illuminated the stage as he performed the title track from last year’s Splinter and flickering blue lights created a halo over his head as he sang “We’re the Unforgiven.” Numan’s enthusiasm extended into the three-song encore which commenced with “I Die You Die,” a mid-tempo tune that had audience members clapping along to it, and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” a classic tune from Replicas that benefited from dramatic loud-to-quiet bursts of synthesizer flourishes that were often overwhelmed by noisy guitars.
By our calculation, Numan hadn’t performed in Cleveland for a decade before last night’s show. He was in such great form, here’s to hoping it’s not another ten years before he returns to town.