Gary Numan occupies an unique space within pop culture. The electronic music pioneer made his biggest dent on the mainstream back at the dawn of the ’80s with the synth-driven single “Cars.” It was a worldwide hit that topped singles charts here in Canada and his native UK, and remains the song by which most people known him, if they know him at all.
But a long fallow period followed Gary Numan’s early ’80s peak, one that arguably ended only with the dawn of the millennium, when he shifted musical gears to make darker, more industrial work. It was a move, cynics might say, designed to capitalize on revitalized interest in his work thanks in part to Nine Inch Nails main man Trent Reznor’s loud fandom. (Reznor has recorded a cover of Numan’s 1979 single “Metal,” and, in recent years, has brought his hero on stage with NIN to perform it and other of his songs live.)
But it is hard to believe it was nostalgia alone that allowed Numan, on tour to support his new album Savage, to sell out Toronto’s Opera House. Granted, many of the fans packed in front of the stage this past Friday night suffered from male pattern baldness (an observation made from the venue’s busy top balcony), indicating the age of their own fandom. But a significant proportion of the Numanoids in attendance were of both genders and were obviously born long after both ‘Cars’ and the ’80s. And while recent Numan tours have seen him milk nostaglia’s teat, performing early albums Telekon, The Pleasure Principle, and Replicas in their entirety, Numan here chose a set list that cannily balanced his recent catalogue with the classics.