Master android Gary Numan‘s pioneering synth-pop sounds more relevant than ever in 2010, which is why his scheduled set at this year’s retro-focused Coachella Festival was so anticipated. Unfortunately, a certain Icelandic volcano named Eyjafjallajökull had other plans for Numan, who was one of eight international artists unable to travel to the fest due to unsafe, ashy flying conditions.
But this week Numan finally airlaned it to Southern California for two Los Angeles makeup dates, during which he performed his recently reissued1979 masterwerk The Pleasure Principle (the album that spawned his only U.S. hit, ‘Cars’) in its entirety. And it was worth the wait. Because honestly, the gothically black-clad Numan’s robot-rock revue was more suited to a dry-ice-fogged, crimson-lit, nocturnal venue like Hollywood’s El Rey Theater than some sun-bleached festival field of hackeysacking hippies.
The gig began with the El Rey going pitch-black save for one utilitarian spotlight and a single strident synth note echoing ominously, after which after the 52-year-old Numan strutted out audaciously – all jutting wax-mannequin facial angles and leather riding boots and electric-socket-shocked blue-black hair – and raked his black-nailed fingers across his keyboard while his sidekick banged along on octagonal drums. And it was actually amazing how fresh and state-of-the-art Numan’s disaffected monotone and clinical, computerized compositions from The Pleasure Principle came across, 31 years later.
Ironically, it was only when Numan played his newer tunes – sort of generic Nothing Records cybermetal fodder, with a roar of belligerent guitar more reminiscent of Linkin Park than his trademark cybernetic sinewaves, and his voice brought down an untold number of octaves from its trademark eunuch-yelp to a Cookie Monster croak – that he sounded cringe-inducingly dated.
But the Pleasure Principle tracks, along with choice Tubeway Army cuts like ‘Are Friends Electric’ and ‘Down In The Park’? That material was as principled and pleasurable as ever.