Review by Lydia Fitzer with Photography by Rob Hadley

You went to see Gary Numan live? Who’s that? Oh yeah, he did the one that goes, “Here in my car, I feel safest of all”. That’s cool. Was that 1979? Is he really still touring? – You bet your bum he’s still touring! Not only that, but he’s still creating new material. I won’t go into detail quite yet, but spoiler alert; his new album is phenomenal.

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Everything in due course. The evening began at 8pm with support from LA three-piece Nightmare Air. They self-identify as alt art rock, with a characteristic shoegaze blurring of different instruments. My first thought as they arrived on stage was that I’d like to see more confidence. Guitarist and backing vocalist Dave Dupuis introduced the band with mumbles while the rest of the group hovered in shy silence. This melted away almost as soon as they cracked their first beats. They became caught in the music and opened up to the room. If anything, the initial impression of shyness added to their lovable stage presence. Dupuis brought most of the physical performance to the show, and there’s something likeable about his body language in particular. His excitement is incredibly endearing. It was just a shame that the lighting on stage was too dark to see their beautiful faces!

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‘Who’s Your Lover’ was one of the first songs of the set, and probably the most popular song from their latest album ‘Fade Out’. It’s an incredible track which manages to be punchy and floaty in equal measure, and demands to be properly danced to. Unfortunately the venue had the whole crowd seated, so we were relegated to bopping heads and jiggling knees. This is a band that deserves a crowd of people dancing at the front! This is a band that deserves energy! This is a band that deserves sweat!

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As I listened to ‘Fade Out’, the title track from the new album, it occurred to me that Nightmare Air is the perfect description for them. They give heavy, angry, but simultaneously dreamlike instrumentals paired with the ethereal vocals of Swaan Miller. Yes, Swaan is her actual name. After listening to her perform I am convinced that she is in fact a spirit of the water and wind, about to float into the air at any given moment. Nightmare Air are a pleasure to hear, and their newest tracks give a sense of how they’re growing as artists. Their music is becoming more assertive, more characterful, more distinctive. The song ‘Fade Out’ is in fact a rejection of the fading of a relationship, and is possibly their least “fadey” track to date. The album ‘Fade Out’ does anything but fade from the mind – Nightmare Air will stick with you.

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Speaking of evolving artists, let’s discuss Gary Numan. I barely know where to begin. I don’t know what I expected when I first listened to ‘Savage (Songs from a Broken World)’, but it was different to anything I might have imagined. If you haven’t been following his career you could be forgiven for thinking that he’d produce a record aimed too closely at replicating his 70s/80s success – he certainly has not done so. ‘Savage’ is a modern masterpiece. Further, Numan is a lord of the stage, and it was a privilege to witness such a masterful performance.

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I can’t do credit to the anticipation of the audience before Numan arrived on stage. There were squeals at every movement, bellows of “Nuuu-mannn” at every breath. As he walked onto stage the audience stood to attention as one, and remained standing for the duration of the show. (There really was no need for the chairs!) He raised his arms euphorically. The stage lights were blinding as a nuclear blast; we had entered the apocalyptic world of ‘Savage’.

The first sound was the thunderous bass of ‘Ghost Nation’, and the sky came down at the noise. Numan’s voice resonated with a depth that’s rarely heard in a higher pitched vocal. He sang with immense power and a sincerity which left the whole room affected. The benefit of his experience was clearly felt; this is an artist who has spent years honing a unique performance style. He moved across the stage like a contemporary dancer, using every inch of his body right through to his fingertips. I’m prepared to bet that even his toes curled and flexed to the sound.

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Earlier in his career Numan has been cast within genres such as synth-pop and electronic, but his evolution defies specific categorisation. While he is, in many ways, true to his roots, his style is increasingly dark and gothic. This became especially apparent in his performance of ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ from his 2013 album ‘Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)’. I’d go as far as to say that the performance style was nu-metal. Numan has always been keen to “do [his] own thing” without worrying about genre or fashion, and this is certainly leading him down a more alternative route. He seems to be aware of this – before he hit the stage the music was heavy with artists such as Marilyn Mason and Deftones. In a show as immaculately put-together as this one, there’s no way that could be coincidence. Numan is wilfully identifying with alternative artists, and people are noticing. The alternative crowd are gradually joining his fan base – this was clear from the amount of black lace and platform boot combos in the audience!

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The moment the intro for ‘My Name Is Ruin’ kicked off I felt a violent stab of joy in my gut. This was what I’d been waiting for! This was the masterpiece of masterpieces! It’s addictive and majestic. This was the single released prior to the rest of ‘Savage’, and the most listened-to track from the record. For me personally, the sense of futuristic doom recalls Woodkid’s ‘Volcano’ (and let me tell you, any comparison to Woodkid coming from me is a serious compliment). Of all the tracks of ‘Savage’, this is probably the one with the strongest theme of religious horror. Numan has said that the world portrayed in ‘Savage’ is a “desolate desert wasteland […which] ultimately encourages religion to resurface, and it really goes downhill from there”. Clips from the music video were played on stage showing Numan’s daughter Persia (with whom he worked on the song) with a white cross painted on her forehead. This symbol brings the Christian bible to mind. I found myself linking the lyrics to the story of the burning bush as described in the Book of Exodus, in which God states “My name is Yahweh”. The song talks about vengeance, war, ruin… All running themes of the Old Testament. The performance was incredibly powerful, and subtly suggests the dangerous tendency of humans to use faith to justify atrocities. With ‘Savage’, Numan is making a statement in every sense. The impact of this could not have been more greatly felt by the audience. The applause was deafening before the song was even over.

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Of course, Numan couldn’t have gone a whole show without smashing some of his older classics. After ‘My Name Is Ruin’ he launched straight into ‘Cars’, but not quite as we know it. It still used that distinctive high-pitched synth riff we know and love, but heavier and with less of a pop-synth feel on the backing instrumentals. It was just as iconic and gave just as much fan-service as ever, but without contrasting with the rest of the set. It was very skilfully managed, in my opinion. The same was true of his other older classics, including ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ from way back in his Tubeway Army days. Rather than taking anything away from the much-loved song, the different style offered a fresh perspective. It struck me how well the song holds up, and how fresh and modern the melodies still are. This track gave way to a standing ovation. The passion from the audience was tangible – we stamped for Numan like a herd of wild buffalo!

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The experience was completely immersive. Both Numan and his band members wore wasteland-style rags. The band members gave incredible performances, but there was no doubt that Numan was the star. The stage arrangement, background clips and lighting were put together with great artistry. At times the lights fanned out across the crowd like searchlights – each member of the crowd was part of the story. There was a synaesthesia-type merging of visual and sound which lent the whole show a sense of seamlessness. As he sang ‘When the World Comes Apart’, it felt as though he was asking “Were you with me?” directly to me, cliché as it sounds. It became clear that Numan has created a whole world, and as he performs you stand in this world beside him.

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See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

One Response to “Gary Numan (The Savage Tour Part 2) + Nightmare Air at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, UK – 13th March 2018”

  1. MARK garton Says:

    Went to birmingham syphony hall show fantastic n show and orchestra was great a very underated artist

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