GARY NUMAN – ST GEORGE’S CHURCH, KEMP TOWN, BRIGHTON 13.10.23
The year was 2004. I was three years old, and I remember being in my father’s kitchen, when the sharp, synth melodies of a particular song surrounding the recurring theme of motorised vehicles entered my ears for the first memorable time (surely, growing up in a musical household, I had encountered this sound at an earlier point?). Seven years later, on a September night at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I continued my journey with the song’s parent individual, albeit fast asleep along the rows of seats… I was 10, okay?
Eight attended shows and virtually my entire human life thus far later, Mr. Webb himself has become, not just a household name in my Le Surf abode, but a staple in my musical and social upbringing in a multitude of mores and meanings. Valerian himself, Gary Numan took an odyssey of live introspection and intimacy across a short autumn UK tour, transmuting his synthpop and industrial craft into acoustic revolution.
Over the years (even the comparatively short twelve years I have spent bearing witness to Numan in a live capacity), Gary’s on-stage characteristics have shapeshifted in a continuous fashion, so an exclusive acoustic experiment has proved to be one of the hardest left-turns in his entire career. But, did it deliver? Well, come inside, you will know I’m right…!
With people meeting, greeting and camping outside Brighton’s St. George’s Church – where I transcending in the presence of experimental rock band Swans not too long ago – Review HERE – since before 4pm, even with this polarising surface-response from Numanoids re the announcement of an acoustic tour, Gary already proves that his fanbase are among the most dedicated cult-like music consuming movement (and I mean that wholeheartedly), in contemporary music surroundings. The on-off rain and clouds proceeded to plague the queue of fans within the last hour before doors opened to brief stampedes into various entrances of the church, a statement I never thought I’d see myself type from a Gary Numan live experience.
Placed three-quarters of the way back along the church pews, the sight of a blank projector screen for the support act caught my attention… I’ve seen many support acts for Gary Numan from I Speak Machine and Jayce Lewis to Nightmare Air and Chris Payne, but never have I ever seen Numan support… himself?! We were treated to an advance preview of last year’s Wembley Arena spectacle that will be released officially on DVD in the near future. The half-hour exclusive preview, was not only a great refresher into the several fruitful tours that Numan has enjoyed over the last couple of years, but a slightly ominous one, thanks to the overhanging crucifix peering over the projector screen!
The film began with the title track from Numan’s 2021 ‘Intruder’ album, complete with the electrifying aura that underlays his performances, played to the wide Wembley crowd. The preview also seemed to cover all bases of Numan’s current live repertoire as ‘Telekon’s ‘Remind Me To Smile’ brought an exciting rapture against the previous track’s fresh energy. Gary has been known to not openly collaborate with many people seemingly outside the Numan loop, so watching the next song was quite something… ‘The Gift’, joined by electronic art pop musician Gazelle Twin, brought forward Numan’s incredible awareness for progression and dynamics. Tubeway Army classic ‘Everyday I Die’ sees Numan joined by his daughter Raven; whenever I’ve heard this song live, I tend to forget the more low-key approach that is undertaken in its performance, diminishing the two-step melody and amplifying the chorus.
Continuing on from the tradition of father and daughter duets, the modern-era fan-favourite, ‘My Name Is Ruin’, joined by daughter Persia, came next in a tradition that has carried on since the ‘Savage’ tour and beyond. This song is always a joy to watch, both live and in front of a projector screen as the wonderful relationship between Gary and his family is a delightful thing to witness. Following the laser-lit spectacle of ‘The Chosen’, complete with tight rhythmic activity from drummer Richard Beasley, came ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, a song that really needs no introduction at this point. Numanoids being Numanoids, the performance was packed with the infamous chanting that you will, without fail, hear at a Numan show… taking into account that we are currenting watching a film preview on a projector screen, that fanbase energy does take me back to a recent experience catching the Talking Heads’ ‘Stop Making Sense’ movie remaster, with featured movie-goers’ applause at every song and dancing at the final leg.
And with the final melodic swells of ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, the preview has concluded and the projector screen proceeds to be dismantled, revealing an intriguing array of instrumentation abound the stage (hang on a tick, a keyboard at an acoustic show?). A mirroring display of two acoustic guitars, joined by two basses (one electric and one double), and a percussion/drum set-up reminiscent to that of indie pop band alt-J’s Thom Green in its variety and unconventional layout stated that this evening was definitely going to be something different…!
8:45pm, and the church lights go down and within swift seconds, the virus-like spreads of fans chanting “Nu-u-u-ma-a-an!” bounce across every nook, cranny, candle and crucifix in St. George’s Church. With little time to waste, the set commences with a soft piano introduction of the ‘Savage’ track ‘When The World Comes Apart’. ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’, quickly became one of my favourite Gary Numan releases, so the anticipation of re-arrangements of select tracks was sitting high before Gary breathed his first lyric. The rustically acoustic soundplay here was extremely disorienting after spending eight previous shows in the presence of electronic soundscapes (even Numan himself stated following this song’s performance, “it’s a bit weird, innit? You should sit in my position”). However, adjustments did not take long as the rodeo-like rhythmic palate began to draw me in, with the dynamics riding pretty high for an acoustic show.
If ‘When The World Comes Apart’ didn’t entice my attention enough, then ‘You Are In My Vision’ took my critical expectation and beat it to a sonic pulp! A favourite from the sophomore Tubeway Army release ‘Replicas’, this performance re-articulates the steady droning root notes and punk-like guitar chords into a gorgeous home of sound.
It’s worth noting that Gary has been using this tour as a vehicle to bring older songs back to life and while it had a brief resurgence in his 2019 shows, this was certainly the first time I heard the ‘Dance’ track ‘Stories’! In a less-noir-more-jazz-club atmosphere, this track is brought in a much more direct manner to its 1981 parent album. Better still is the new knowledge I encountered from Gary that the song revolves around a woman who is haunted by the ghost of her aborted baby in a cafe… recurring jokes of Numan’s songs not being particularly happy ones are made constantly throughout the night.
As we reach the melancholic and dread-filled ‘For The Rest Of My Life’ from 2011’s ‘Dead Son Rising’, I realised that the dark shade that paints Gary’s lyrics and songs seemed to have washed away at this show and brought us one step closer to his clear introspection. A live show miracle came next! A top five Numan song for me, ‘The Life Machine’, makes its live debut on this tour, with a red electrocardiogram displaying over the projector board hanging below the crucifix above the stage. Numan proceeds to inform the audience on how the following track in the set, ‘Metal’, is an example of a song that he plays live on nearly every show of his tours that he wanted to re-imagine in a new light. With that being said, the luscious and progressive dynamics in this arrangement certainly achieves that new light, with guitarist Steve Harris making exceptional usage of dynamics and keyboardist David Brooks delivering, quite effortlessly I must add, that twisted and complex melody (you’ll know the one I mean!).
‘Intruder’s ‘I Am Screaming’, too, makes its live debut across this acoustic tour: its arrangement now consists of sombre guitar passages from Steve and weighty piano notes from David. Plus, this track holds what is easily the best dynamic progression of a Numan song in this set-up! The golden gem of ‘The Machman’ is preluded with Gary’s description of one of his songwriting processes which involves writing each lyric like it’s a singular vignette, with the end result painting an indeterminate picture that had no pre-planned thought. Interestingly, this track doesn’t sound too far away from its ‘Replicas’ original as the only thing that’s really missing here is a heavier synth tone and electric guitar.
Tim Slade brings out the double bass for the first time in the set, having played the electric bass for every song thus far, on the ‘Splinter’ track ‘Lost’. This switch to double bass really accentuated the song’s meaning, with it being around a tumultuous point in Gary’s marriage with his wife Gemma, where they both had thoughts on leaving each other. ‘Lost’, while initially centred around this subject in early writing stages, eventually ended up surrounding the things that Gary believed made her special.
Oops… an incorrect song introduction halts the set as Gary and Steve fall about laughing at this error (‘Mercy’ written on the setlist in black lettering and several adjacent asterisks on the setlist, and still a false start!). The pair re-compose themselves before correctly introducing ‘Mercy’, a strong favourite of mine from 2021’s ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’. Notable for being one of Numan’s slower tempo industrial tracks, this version feels extremely desolate and spacious in its chord changes and overall timbre… which was a great thing as it left me focusing on the intricacies in this arrangement! That earlier false start is ratified now as ‘Savage’s opener ‘Ghost Nation’ follows suit with David’s textured organ intro and pulsing double bass from Tim. Just thinking back to the harsh and thumping synths in the song’s original counterpart, this version mirrors that so beautifully with the guitars’ low-end sound and smoky visuals across the projector.
Gary preludes the following Tubeway Army favourite ‘Everyday I Die’ with an anecdote surrounding a strange lady who runs a Facebook page dedicated to slagging off Gemma and the three Numan kids, stating she planned to attend a Glasgow meet-and-greet and punch her (which Gemma apparently looked forward to!). This was followed by a remark about her annoyance on Raven joining Gary at a previous show to sing ‘Everyday I Die’, a song about… well, making use of your pleasure principle, shall we say?! That said, this song’s re-arrangement made use of stellar percussion, a sleazy atmosphere, excitingly dynamic climax and the obligatory drunk proclaiming “shall we stand up, people?!”, to which several people around him, myself included, said… “no”.
Talking of the crowd (interruptions or otherwise), the hundreds of Numanoids in the church seemed to remain surprisingly silent for the classic ‘Down In The Park’, introduced in a nod to the piano version that was released as a B-side to ‘I Die: You Die’. The song mutates across this piano arrangement before it reaches the opening verse along a trip-hop groove from Richard that works extremely well here. As it concludes with gorgeous cymbal flourishes and swells, it left me thinking just how much thought and craft had gone into the material for this acoustic tour…!
Possibly the biggest rarity of the entire tour and then some, ‘Crime Of Passion’, a 6/8 soft cut available on the deluxe edition of Tubeway Army compilation album ‘The Plan’. Somewhat blissful in tone, it reaches atmospheric highs with waves of harmonies from the band that you could expect to hear in ‘Speak & Spell’/’A Broken Frame’ era Depeche Mode. ‘Bleed’ from the essential career-shifting album ‘Sacrifice’ is introduced by Numan as a song about the idea of creatures that lived in your dreams, remaining awake in that state only, feeding on your terrors… ominous, right?! Well, that ominous notion plays full deck in this show with blood-red visuals painting the walls, on which bounces shadows of David’s keyboards. The penultimate song of the main set was ‘And It All Began With You’, a song that amplifies Gary’s recent thoughts about the sadness and melancholia surrounding death in all walks of life. Here, we listen to the keyboards reaching depth-defying low notes and picked double bass carrying the song across as Numan brings forward some soft falsetto that stretches across the room.
Now, I’ve seen Gary Numan live nine times since 2011, including this show, and I can successfully say I’ve experienced ‘Jo The Waiter’ live for the second time! The fan favourite to end all fan favourites, naturally, this song doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the Tubeway Army version, complete with 50s bassline and the biggest sing-along of the entire night (and that includes the obvious encore choices!). Numan’s closing “give me your heart, I’m so quickly gone” signals the end of the main set, leading to a massive standing ovation as the quintet departs the stage… cue the stamping and chants of “Numan! Numan!”.
They subsequently return before Gary quietly utters “please be seated…” to the one-off churchgoers. A tale about ‘Cars’ is sermoned to the Numanoids; according to Gary, this track was originally not considered to be part of the tour’s acoustic repertoire, that is until Steve Harris interjected a rehearsal to show him an idea he had conjured for reworking it…! What we were eventually gifted with was quite something to behold: opening with the tambourine-led bridge section, this time reworked into intricate acoustic guitar passages, the infamous A Mixolydian melody line is backed by a somewhat bittersweet set of chords that descend and ascend against the lyrics with grace and poise! Oh yeah, did I mention this too was also played on the double bass?
While ‘Cars’ is notorious for losing its stature as a Numan favourite with fans thanks to its commercial over-saturation, the show’s closer and synthpop genesis number one, ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ has been performed live nearly 1,000 times… and it still means everything to Numan and his fans. The chants are very much present, the emotionally touching spoken word ‘chorus’ is in full effect and the closing swells cap the show off in a monumental fashion!
And with that, the show is done, with the crowd dispersing in various traditional Numanoid fashions: groups heading towards the stage to nab setlists and look at the equipment, groups gathering at the merch table, the select few recognising Nightmare Air’s Dave Dupuis in his role as tour manager and the rest rushing for the last bus, train, or whatever mode of transport home (still waiting to spot any super-obsessive fans turning up in homemade ‘Telekon’ cars…!). Even after all this time, Gary Numan is still, without a doubt, the one artist I will always make the time to go catch live with my father and his mates; he continues to excite, innovate and demonstrate his unique presence after 46 years in the musical consciousness.
Review addendum: I would also like to thank Music Editor Nick Linazasoro for delegating this review to me, I hope you believe you’d made a good decision?
Gary Numan band:
Gary Numan – lead vocals, acoustic guitar
Steve Harris – acoustic guitar
Tim Slade – acoustic bass, double bass
David Brooks – keyboards
Richard Beasley – drums
Gary Numan setlist:
‘When The World Comes Apart’ (from 2017 ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ album)
‘You Are In My Vision’ (from 1979 ‘Replicas’ album)
‘Stories’ (from 1981 ‘Dance’ album)
‘For The Rest Of My Life’ (from 2011 ‘Dead Son Rising’ album)
‘The Life Machine’ (from 1978 ‘Tubeway Army’ album)
‘Metal’ (from 1979 ‘The Pleasure Principle’ album)
‘I Am Screaming’ (from 2021 ‘Intruder’ album)
‘The Machman’ (from 1979 ‘Replicas’ album)
‘Lost’ (from 2013 ‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)’ album)
‘Mercy’ (from 2017 ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ album)
‘Ghost Nation’ (from 2017 ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ album)
‘Everyday I Die’ (from 1978 ‘Tubeway Army’ album)
‘Down In The Park’ (from 1979 ‘Replicas’ album)
‘Crime Of Passion’ (from 1985 ‘Numan / Tubeway Army – 1978 / 1979 Volume Three – (A Collection Of Unreleased Recordings)’ album)
‘Bleed’ (from 1994 ‘Sacrifice’ album)
‘And It All Began With You’ (from 2017 ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ album)
‘Jo The Waiter’ (from 1978 ‘Tubeway Army’ album)
‘Cars’ (from 1979 ‘The Pleasure Principle’ album)
‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ (from 1979 ‘Replicas’ album)