Gary Numan, The Metro, Sydney, 31/05/14

"Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Trent Reznor..."

Sydney’s CBD is, even more than normal on a Saturday night, a seething mass of humanity, with thousands thronging the streets to take part in the local Vivid festivities, so it’s something of a welcome respite to step into the slightly-less crowded confines of the Metro and into the industrial goth bubble that is the world of rock’s favourite Thatcherite, Gary Numan.

Early signs aren’t good; the merch stand is deserted, with all lines, despite being slashed in price, failing to attract so much as a sniff from the assembled punters, who clearly think that the ninety bucks they’ve invested in a ticket is enough for the time being. Moving into the Metro’s main stage area morale takes a further dip as our ears are assailed by a synth duo, Buzz Kull, who test the patience and the ears with a set that climaxes with a cut-price rendition of New Order’s Blue Monday. Still they aren’t around for long, and the thirty minute wait for Numan to take the stage seems like a walk (down) in the park after Buzz Kull’s atmosphere-ruining ploddings.

At least it does at first. Du Hast booms out of the speakers first up, leaving the punters who’ve turned up hoping to hear Music for Chameleons and Me! I Disconnect from You looking confused and nervous. Then Korn is rolled out, leaving me looking confused and nervous. By the time the sound man is playing his greatest hits of dubstep tape twenty minute later we’re all looking confused and nervous and it comes as great relief when the great man finally appears on stage to a hero’s welcome.

A hero’s welcome at least, that is, to the bloke in the front row who bellows ‘Welcome back Gary!!!’ Me? I’m not so sure. Opener Resurrection – one of a brace of songs from 2011’s Dead Son Rising – does its job well, backed by a stellar light show and one of the better sounds I’ve heard at the Metro in a while, but from then for the next hour time seems to stand still. In fact half way through the fourth song of the evening, Everything Comes Down to This Numan appears to be consulting his watch and I know how he feels. For all his ‘godfather of Industrial’ soubriquets – and I for one wouldn’t quibble with those by the way – Gary just doesn’t have much in the way of an entertainment gene. The lightshow and bludgeon only go so far, and too often it feels like we’re being subjected to third rate industrial metal sung with all the vocal intensity of comedian Rob Brydon’s small man trapped in a box. If you’re going to do this stuff, you at least have to come equipped with a roar like a wounded bull, something Numan just doesn’t possess.

Most of the set is culled from last year’s Splinter album – this is the Splinter World Tour after all – but the highlights, and there were some, for all my carping, come from times further afield. There’s a fine version of Down in the Park from 1979’s Replicas album, for instance, whilst an invigorating brace of I Die: You Die and Are ‘Friends’ Electric make hanging around for the encores a worthwhile exercise.

On leaving the show a good friend of mine remarked that you don’t come to a 2014 Numan show for the songs, but for the sonics and the show itself; if that’s the case then this performance was an unmitigated success. But for me a bit more songcraft and a bit less generic posturing would have gone down just fine.

 

Photograph by Little Red Birdy.