Concert Reviews

Gary Numan at the Gothic, 10/28/10

With Blackcell
10.28.10 | Gothic Theatre, Denver, CO

Local IDM/experimental electronic duo Blackcell kicked off this show with synths and maybe drum machines and computers as sequencers. As deeply textured percussion filled the room, various other generated noises created a techno-organic melody occasionally punctuated by mechanistic vocals. Visually, two different sets of projections washed the stage in shifting imagery, from factory footage to two-dimensional renderings of three-dimensional objects, from bits and pieces of movies to found footage and other treatments presumably created by the band itself.

Gary Numan took the stage next, and the first part of his set was devoted to 1979's The Pleasure Principle, which was played in its entirety. When the band started up "Metal," the crowd gave out a lusty cheer, to which Numan flashed a genuine smile of appreciation. While some singers aren't as good as they were when they were young, Numan hasn't lost a step. If anything, maturity has brought him supreme confidence in his performance.

If all you knew about Numan was what you had seen in his videos or from hearing "Cars" (which the band played, naturally), you'd think he was some sort of distant space alien. And although he does indeed have a mysterious, compelling presence live, it's clear that he's also an intensely focused performer with a pronounced knack for drawing folks in with his intensity and emotive gesturing, and he has a stockpile of great songs, all of which had the crowd singing along enthusiastically.

The second half of Numan's set featured a good deal of material from his later-era catalogue, including the colossal "Pure," during which Numan had such a feral look in his eye at one point that it was simultaneously unsettling and inspiring. "Down in the Park" elicited one of the most enthusiastic reactions from the crowd -- and Numan didn't even have to bring out that futuristic cart he used in the footage from Urgh! A Music War. The main part of the set ended with "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and Numan got most of the crowd to clap along in rhythm for longer than you often see at almost any show.

Numan wasn't done with us yet, though, and with a subtle grace, poise and humility, he and the guys came back on stage for a three-song encore that included "I Die You Die," "Rip" and the unexpectedly triumphant "A Prayer for the Unborn." The spectacular light show -- pillars of arranged LEDs that radiated red and blue -- helped to accentuate the effect of the music as Numan led the band with an impressive vigor and vitality throughout.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I grew up with early electronic music and synth pop and have been a fan of Numan's from early on. Random Detail: Ran into Neal Samples of TekTone at the show. By the Way: There were live DVDs and CDs of The Pleasure Principle live available at the merch booth so it's probably just a matter of time before you can easily find them online.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.