The Royal Festival Hall is a natural home for a lot of things – classical music, comedy, and theatre just to name a few. It’s also one of the venues where one might not expect an artist like Gary Numan to appear, and yet that’s what’s happening thanks to the Convergence Festival, which has been hosting gigs, workshops and talks across London for most of March.
Die-hard fans, clad in long black coats, swarm into the auditorium, where they create a fevered atmosphere, with the oddly football terracey chant of ‘NOO-MAN!’ ringing all the way around. Once the lights dim, the man himself wastes no time in bouncing onstage, and neither do the fans in the front few rows who charge to the front of the stage and get as close to him as possible.
What follows is a dark, twisted, onslaught of loud, brash industrial-style electronic rock – exemplified by an early outing of the huge, pulverising My Jesus – and for an hour-and-a-half. The set still contains a number of songs from Splinter: Songs From A Broken Mind, Numan’s most recent record, but the emphasis is firmly on shining a light on as much of his back catalogue as possible.
He’s also very much preaching to the converted, because as much as the setlist is a thrill for the devoted, it’s clearly not a ‘greatest hits’ set. However, Numan and his band have a knack for knowing when a sure-fire hit is needed. Cars, an overwhelming juggernaut of a track and a true classic, arrives just when a lift is needed halfway through. The main set itself concludes with a triumphant Are ‘Friends’ Electric? Ignoring the fact that Metal is nowhere to be found (a near-criminal act), the fact these and other older cuts like Down In The Park don’t sound dated goes to show how well albums like The Pleasure Principle and Replicas have aged.
Those older cuts also benefit from a lot more muscle and urgency when played live. His band are a competent and robust group – beefing up the overall sound in a way that isn’t too dissimilar to that of Nine Inch Nails. But the real star, of course, is Numan himself. His magnetic presence and inimitable vocals are worth the ticket price alone. Watching him fully immersed in songs like Everything Comes Down To This and I Am Dust, especially in a setting this grandiose, makes for a mesmerising experience. What’s even more remarkable is that his vocals are as powerful and unique as they were when he emerged in the late ’70s.
Yet following on from Are ‘Friends’ Electric? proves to be too difficult a challenge. A solid but not spectacular encore of Jo The Waiter, A Prayer For The Unborn and I Die: You Die conclude the 90 minute set. It’s not the perfect show, but the dizzying highs are enough to make it a memorable one at least. Gary Numan is never going to be a crowd-pleaser (he has, and presumably will continue to, make his own path regardless of expectations) but it’s still a treat to see a true pioneer of modern music, especially one that has been going for over three decades, perform with such energy and vibrancy.
Gary Numan played: Pressure, Everything Comes Down To This, Remind Me To Smile, My Jesus, Here In The Black, Bombers, The Machman, Dark, Down In The Park, Prophecy, I Am Dust, Cars, We’re The Unforgiven, Love Hurt Bleed, My Shadow In Vain, Are ‘Friends’ Electric? Encore: Jo The Waiter, A Prayer For The Unborn, I Die: You Die.