Gary Numan performing "Are 'Friends' Electric?"Photo by Daniel Starkey with permission for Varsity

There are few days where I don’t give thanks for the time that Gary Numan first discovered a synthesiser. Few other artists of his generation, I think, were as influential in the transition from punk to the new wave and electronic music of the early 80s, a transition he embodies seamlessly, sounding, in his early days, just about halfway between the Sex Pistols and Spandau Ballet. So it was with great joy in my heart that I headed down to Wembley’s OVO Arena on Saturday 7 May to see Numan live for the first time. In his 2:20 set, Numan delivered a solid mix of both recent and classic material, all held together brilliantly and thoroughly pleasing to listen to.

“I’ve already been captivated by his unique, pioneering, sci-fi-esque sound”

44 years on from the release of his first album with Tubeway Army (which, incidentally, was recorded right here in Cambridge), Numan is still going strong. His recent work leans towards a sweeping, powerful sound that incorporates dark wave and industrial rock, yet maintains his distinctive synth-driven electronic character. I’ll admit I’m a relatively new listener, only just getting familiar with his earlier albums and starting to delve into his newer releases and back catalogue. But I’ve already been captivated by his unique, pioneering, sci-fi-esque sound.

Gary Numan performing "Me, I Disconnect From You"Photo by Daniel Starkey with permission for Varsity

Sitting amidst a sea of mainly 40 to 70 year olds, I must admit that I felt hopelessly out of place. It’s the cross one must bear for having a taste in music a good 40 years behind one’s peers, I suppose. That being said, it was wonderful to see what Numan means to a whole generation of fans and how enduringly popular he has been over the decades. I bonded with the lovely gentleman in his 70s sitting next to me over our shared musical tastes. He mentioned that he’d seen Numan live all the way back in 1982, 20 years before I was born. Wow.

“It was a night that helped solidify my love for Gary Numan’s music”

In any case, the performances were wonderfully composed with flawless instrumentals and Numan’s vocals were as strong as ever throughout. Despite the odd unfamiliar song that I couldn’t have appreciated as much as those I knew, I spent most of the time greatly enjoying myself, listening and singing along to Numan’s most classic songs: “Cars”, “We are Glass”, and of course, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” to name a few. Numan, as always, had a fantastic stage presence; his infectious energy makes it almost impossible to believe that he’s now 64 years old. He connected with the audience brilliantly and seemed to be having as great a time as the rest of us assembled there. He was also supported by a strong entourage, including his daughters and some early band members, which was heart-warming to see.

Gary Numan performing "We Are Glass"Photo by Daniel Starkey with permission for Varsity

Among the best standouts were the stage lighting and visuals displayed on screens that took the show to another level. They reflected the electronic, sci-fi feel of Numan’s early works, including visual references to the artwork of early albums, while some of his newer songs were juxtaposed with beautiful celestial imagery. At one point, the screens displayed images of plastic sea pollution as his recent climate apocalypse-inspired works played. It felt a little on-the-nose; a bit like something out of Flight of the Conchords; but a message rather pertinent to the tone of the song.


Mountain View

Live review: The Shires ‘build their own Nashville’ at The Cambridge Corn Exchange

Particularly commendable was the rearrangement of classic songs (which, while I love them, admittedly sound dated) to instead sound thrilling, bold, and relevant to the time and place of the performance. 1978’s “Every Day I Die”, for instance: a semi-acoustic, soft rock number that wouldn’t sound out of place on T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior”, wouldn’t really fit the atmosphere of the large arena. So it had been radically rethought, along the lines of some of his past concerts, into something entirely different: soaring, ethereal and haunting, sitting perfectly next to 2021’s “Black Sun”. Occasionally, I missed some of the simpler old-fashioned electronic sound that I particularly enjoy from his earlier albums, though that’s an inevitable consequence of keeping the songs fresh in the transition to the live stage. And even if they had been given a bit of a facelift, the songs were definitely still recognisably themselves. All in all, it was a night that helped solidify my love for Gary Numan’s music and showed me the wonders that great live music can do.