We head to The Electric Ballroom in London for Gary Numan’s 999th gig.
When Gary Numan announced that he would be playing 3 shows in London to commemorate his 998th, 999th and 1000th shows you knew that they were going to be a little bit special. Clearly, the Numan fans thought so too as the tickets sold out in double quick time. Indeed, instead of 3 dates, this could easily have become 6 or even more in my opinion. Add to this that his daughter, Raven, would be playing her first shows and performing songs from the upcoming album and you have an almost irresistable Numan evening in the making!
When I arrive at the Electric Ballroom, there is a still a sizeable queue around the building but it is moving pretty quickly, filling the venue nicely. The stage is set for Raven, with all of the equipment pushed to the front to allow for a quick changeover midway through the evening. This does mean that there is not a massive amount of space to be had on the (already) small stage.
No matter, the lights go down and Raven and sister Persia take to the stage, accompanied by a guitarist (Ben Simon), drummer (John Azopardi) and keys (Ade Fenton). Ade Fenton is Numan’s long time producer, having handled production duties on all of the current Numan studio albums. This bodes well as the man has done a grand job on these and we can expect the same level of focus tonight.
As the first song makes its mark, I muse on how difficult it must be, being the daughter of someone like Gary Numan. Sure, it obviously opens doors and provides opportunities that most artists can only dream about but it also sets expectations and standards pretty high. It also means that playing to a packed ballroom of about 1500 people is a pretty daunting introduction to live music!
Not that you’d know it though, both Raven and her sister Persia look like naturals on the stage. Mean and moody with smiles in short supply, Persia in particular, attitude turned up to 11. There is little movement throughout the set, although, as mentioned, there is actually very little room to move. The songs are Numanesque in nature but with the hard edges removed. This is the first time I’ve heard these songs so it would be wrong to judge on a live performance as all of the subtleties and nuances are lost, however, there are definitely some interesting twists and turns that warrant a deeper look when the recorded material is released.
Raven’s vocals are strong, she is obviously quite an accomplished singer and some of the song titles themselves give a pretty good idea of the lyrical content – Children Of The Bad Revolution, Here for Me and Pretty When I’m Hurt. It is quite a short 9 song set, well received by the packed venue with the odd cry of “Raven!” coming form the darkness. There’s no doubt though that everyone in the venue is waiting for the major event of the evening……
So a brief pause in the proceedings to clear the stage of extraneous gear and make a bit more space then the lights go down and there is a massive cheer from the crowd who have been waiting patiently. At this point the Electric Ballroom is as full as I have ever seen it with the floor absolutely jam packed.
Resurrection starts the proceedings and allows Gary’s band to take their places. Steve Harris on guitar and Tim Slade on bass both look like they’ve come from a mashup of Hellraiser meets Mad Max, some dystopian future, quite nightmarish in nature. Then Mr Numan himself takes to the stage admidst more loud cheering and the first familiar chords of Down In The Park ring out around the venue.
Fantastic song to start the set with, always sends shivers down my back. Gary is on fine form and looks really happy to be on stage. His arms perform a dance at various parts of the track (if you know the song, it is the slow bong bits!) and the audience mirrors the movements as if hypnotised – not bad considering this is the start of the set! That’s Too Bad follows on from this and ups the energy levels with Steve Harris moving around the stage like a madman, Gary has also donned his guitar for this track and this heralds a trip well into Numan history.
Rip from the much underrated Pure album rings out and there is barely a moment between the songs for anyone to catch a breath. The sound is also fantastic, not sure if this is because the venue is full or because there is someone masterful on the mixer, either way it is most welcome and the sound really is breathtakingly good. M.E. takes us back to synth heavy music with Gary at the back of the stage on keys. The set this evening is finely crafted with a fine balance of new and older material, certainly enough to keep Numan fans, new and old, happy. Indeed, each of these 1000th shows has a different setlist so you could go to all 3 gigs and have a slightly different experience each night.
Films keeps us in the same timeline, great to hear these old songs which still stand up very well against the newer material, especially in a live environment where they take on a life of their own and a power that the recorded music doesn’t really convey. Crazier cranks up the energy again and the crowd are fully on board. Every Day I Die sounds unbelievably heavy, synths to the max and it seems the whole crowd is singing along. Numan himself is lost in the music too, this is a very inclusive performance where audience and band are all very much on the same page.
Ghost Nation gives the music some space to breathe and the crowd another opportunity to sing along, this is one of the most infectious choruses Numan has created and a perfect build-up to it in the song too. The Chosen brings us up to date and showcases some of the Middle Eastern themes on this album, always given the Numan treatment and a few twists and turns. Similar musical themes are evident on Is This World Not Enough and another great hook along with crunching synth lines that crush everything in their path.
Continuing with the latest material The Gift explores musical avenues that really do stretch what you may think of as a typical Numan song with some incredible instrumentation. Love the way this song develops, building the tension up and up to the point where it jumps into a chorus that, once again, begs to be sung along with. My Name Is Ruin is another classic from the modern Numan period that toys with Middle Eastern motifs, and combines them yet again with a chorus to die for. By this point in the set everyone is fully on board, there’s barely been a break in the music, everyone is having a cracking time.
The set closes with A Prayer for the Unborn, the lights go down and the crowd starts shouting for the encore that they know is coming. The last two songs take us back to the Replicas era – Me, I Disconnect from You and finishing, as expected, with the iconic track Are Friends Electric.
Barely a word spoken during the set, wall-to-wall music and choc full of the best that Numan has to offer. So the 999th show has been a resounding success as far I’m concerned, looking around this seems to be the sentiment everywhere. Once again Numan proves that he is still very much relevant and able to produce music that makes people laugh, cry & connect along with a live performance as good as any I’ve seen. A top evening indeed and another stunning show added to a long list of stunning Numan gigs. The forthcoming tour of the US with Ministry should be a killer!
Gary Numan heads to the US now for a tour with Ministry and has some acoustic dates scheduled for October 2023. You can check the tour dates & tickets here
All concert photography by Graham Hilling. You can check out more of his work on his website, here.
Gary Numan: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Raven Numan: Instagram
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Categories: Live Reviews
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