Past or Present…… Tense

 

Gary Numan

The Pleasure Principle Tour 2009

The Junction, Cambridge

1st December 2009

Numan has decided to perform “The Pleasure Principle” album as it was, back in the day, in 1979. Out comes the skinny tie and digital synthesizers with patches to emulate the sounds produced by the analog models that were used on an album that has become highly esteemed in recent years. In 1979, Gary Numan was disparaged by the critics. Now they love him.

When Numan toured two previous classic albums – Telekon and Replicas – he updated the sound of those albums to fit his current style. This time there is no such tampering but there will be a second set featuring songs which are not from The Pleasure Principle and those songs will be presented in Gary’s current modus operandi. It will be interesting to see which wins – the new against the old – not only artistically but in the view of the crowd.

The Junction is a fairly bog standard rock venue. Standing only. Cramped. Dark. Your shoes keep sticking to the floor where drink has been spilled on a previous night and little effort has been made to clear up. The sound reproduction is good but the stage is small. This, in itself,is a problem. Numan is jammed behind a keyboard for most of this first set and reproducing the old keyboard sounds on the modern synths takes little effort on the part of the band. All very static. This used to work in the old days on huge stages with vast light shows. It is a testimony to the ability of this band that they still manage to hold your attention.

The songs are well performed but the performance is rather sedentary and there is a great sound but not much to watch. The set list has its brave moments, not too many acts would open their show with two instrumentals. The second of these is “Airlane” which heralds an in-order run through of the album. High points? “M.E.” and the seldom performed “Conversation”. On “Tracks”, Numan blows the lyric completely. During “Asylum” the stage is rearranged for the second half. Once the table that Numan’s keyboard is stood upon is taken away and Chris McCormack straps on his electric guitar the whole feel of the show changes.

Whether because he is now able to perform in his preferred style or whether because being out from behind the keyboard frees him, Numan is now much more energetic and moves around the stage with poise, mystery and momentum.

The first song in this section of this set is the yet unreleased “The Fall” which bodes well for forthcoming releases. “Halo”, “Jagged” and “Haunted” from recent albums are all performed well but it is ironic that the high points of the second half are a storming “Down in the Park” and a version of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” which alternates between a gentle piano-like sound and thunderous keyboards and guitars. There is clear evidence that whatever the quality and energy of his performance, Numan’s songwriting is no longer what it once was. Too often his recent lyrics address his dislike of religion and playing on this one lyrical note can soon become tired whatever your own views. In this regard using a burning cross on his video screen – an image with racial and Ku Klux Klan overtones as well as religious ones – was not exactly his most sensitive decision.

Aside from this the visual elements of the show work well and the show builds towards a dynamic conclusion with “We Are So Fragile” (old) and “A Prayer From the Unborn” (fairly new). Ironically, the restricted movements of the first half giving way to the torrent of activity of the second gives the illusion of a build in energy which works well. In reality, both halves of the show work well in their own way and the performance is a huge success.

This is likely to be the last of these album-revisited tours that Numan will do. It is hard to see him performing the excellent “Dance” album with the current configuration of his band. The last model of combining the old and the new has worked well and will hopefully bring some of his old audience to a greater appreciation of the newer material and performance style. Hopefully, they won’t notice the falling away of the songwriting content as much as this reviewer does. But that is something only Gary can address and the increasing gap between his studio albums suggests he is not close to finding an answer..…….

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