The Opera House – Toronto, Ontario – 01 December 2017
I love Gary Numan. I have loved him since I was about 15. Right back to the Tubeway Army days. I have traveled the world to see him play. When he comes to Toronto, where for the past few visits has been at the far-too-small Opera House, it is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing as this venue is barely 10 minutes from home and my tickets are in good ole Canadian dollars; a curse because it deprives me of my “music tourism” adventures and because Toronto audiences can be tricky.
Numan is a fascinating man; husband, father of 3, a pilot, composer, and he talks openly about his battles with depression. He is someone openly living with Aspergers, he is funny, warm, down to earth and is very approachable and connected to his fans. His Meet and Greets are particularly special; full of genuine thoughtful conversations, shared stories and bonding over often difficult subjects, more like catching up with old friends than fans meeting an idol.
What intrigues me most is that in his early years, the stage presence was about disconnection and isolation and depression, and lyrically this is something he underlines often, yet he connects so strongly with his fans on stage and off. I know for me this music makes me feel truly alive and the science behind why is something I hope one day our editor will let me explore. Hint Hint Hint. The bullshit often spewed about machines and synthesizers not being considered “real” music or being cold, dispassionate and lacking in humanity, is just that, complete and utter bullshit. I love that there are so many people who travel to see his shows, and who do so on their own. Yet they find new friends along the way and connect with people on their adventures; many with similar experiences as outcasts and loners, now very much part of our own gang of Numanoids.
The mind boggles at how you put together a setlist from an impressive catalog of decades-spanning music; there are 20+ albums out. But having toured the Replicas, Telekon, and The Pleasure Principle trifecta for quite a while now, the main focus is on the more recent material with a peppering of classics left in to ensure everyone is happy.
The show kicks off painting a strobe-ridden post-apocalyptic landscape with “Ghost Nation” from the newest album “Savage- Songs from a broken world”. High energy, warpaint, looking like a team of mercenaries fighting to survive, it leaves us in no doubt that Mr. Numan is in charge of the proceedings. Next came “Metal” drenched in blood-red lighting (I could hear our photographer swearing from halfway across the venue)) where one young fella next to me screamed, “OMG the NIN song!”. Along with classic fan favourites “Are Friends Electric?” and “Down in the Park”, get-that-angst-out “Here in the Black” and heavier more industrial tunes like “The Fall” and “Love Hurt Bleed”, An excellent live version of “My Name is Ruin”, without daughter Persia, was a standout according to our photographer.
The band is solid. Years of touring together in various incarnations have made this an unbeatable team. Tim Muddiman on bass scowls (probably from the blinding lights!) and stomps around in all his punk glory, Steve Harris hunches over his guitar, dancing, moving almost non-stop for the entire show, Richard Beardsley on drums is a quiet, steady presence while his drums echo the latter but definitely not the former, and David M. Brooks adds orchestral pageantry, catchy hooks and an amazing assortment of sounds to the mix.
This music live is much different; harder, stripped down from the layered production of the albums. It’s not surprising that his music is used in video games and that he and Ade Fenton (reunited!) write film soundtracks. And will somebody please let him do the next Bond theme?! Who do we have to talk to about that? The night is filled with energy, an all-out sensory assault, graceful moves by Numan as well as full-on angry headbanging. He doesn’t speak much but his beaming out at us was all that he needed to say. Let’s change that old song to “Me I Connect to You”. It was palpable. I loved every minute, I sang every goddamn song, danced like a dumb 15-year-old in her bedroom.
You know how I mentioned earlier about people calling this music cold etc? Some may have been wondering why I was standing there sobbing. “Prayer for the Unborn” is the manifestation of pain and grief and anger. It is a conversation with a higher power about why he/she/it would take someone we love away and the myriad emotions are so incredibly captured in words and music. I will never do justice to how powerful this song is. It rises and falls, it is your heart beating faster as fury courses through you, it is you screaming in agony, it is you on your knees at your most vulnerable, it is you rocking back and forth trying to console yourself. It is the human experience. It is perfection. And it saved me during a very dark time. The power of the music and the man.
There is so much more to Numan than most people know. The Tubeway Army days and synth-pop classic “Cars” being all that they could name or recognize of his lifetime in the business. If the “Savage” material reflects our broken world, well let¹s not repair it shall we?!
Catch them while you can until the end of the month in North America and then back in the UK in 2018.
All photos © DeadFly Media