Where Gary Numan shows were concerned, it used to be something of a tradition among his fans. Numanoids would choose their favourite era and dress accordingly. For most, it was a toss-up between the black boiler suit of 1980’s Telekon or the Mad Max garb of 1983’s Warriors – although some went for the get-up from 1984’s Berserker album. It must have taken some guts to get the bus home from, say, Glasgow Apollo adorned in white leather, greasepaint, blue blusher and blue hair to match.
Two days prior to the release of their idol’s eighteenth album Jagged, it became apparent that they’ve weathered the lean years with him. However, the fancy dress parade isn’t what it was. When white leather trousers refuse to give extra four inches, nostalgia isn’t an option. That said, it would also be inappropriate to dwell too heavily on the past. The Gary Numan that played before a sell-out crowd seems to make more sense than he did as a confused young pop droid fighting a very public battle with male pattern baldness. His raven barnet offers ample reminder that hair replacement technology has come on in bounds. More pertinently, endorsements from post-Goth noiseniks like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson have given Numan a new focus.
It’s an association he has accentuated by surrounding himself with a young band – among them, a shaven-headed guitarist who takes to his instrument with finger-shredding zeal. If it all sounds a bit “rock” from an artist who once specialized in songtitles like Remember, I Was Vapour – that’s because it is. Haunted sounded like Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir reinvented for distant dystopian futures. On Halo and Pressure, beefed-up synths anchored their creator’s new found grasp of rock dynamics.
It was either brave or foolish of Numan to insist on playing the album as a piece – especially without the stunning stage sets of his younger years. But it was only on the final songs that audience and artist visibly succumbed to tiredness. Both were revitalised, however, for an encore of early tunes. Resplendent in its new rock guise, Metal was a minor revelation. Less successful was a version of Are “Friends” Electric which could have done without the Satie-esque piano bursts. Not that this stopped Numan’s disciples bellowing his name at every opportunity.
And how does a pop droid react to such adulation? Well, if memory serves, the young Numan would have strode imperiously about the stage milking it all without so much as a smile. Tonight, he looked like if he had stayed on stage a second longer, he might have burst into tears. Which, for a pop droid, would never do.