I don’t know how this is going to end I don’t know how this is going to change I don’t know how this is going to feel But everything comes down to this
For a professional musician, the long days of writing and revising, the weeks – months – getting everything to sound exactly how you want it in the studio; the relief that now the album is done while knowing this means the months of touring will start, away from your home and family; the endless repeating of the same answers to the same questions in the interviews you have to do to promote your product; the tour planning, the venues, the promoters, the ticket distributors, everybody wants something; the logistics of finding a hotel that can accommodate a bus and a semi and a ragtag group of likely freaks carrying all manner of mysterious cases through the lobby at times only vampires should be awake; the hours of no sleep and then nothing to do but sleep as the endless anonymous road rolls by in another state whose name you can’t remember; the almost crushing thought of another load-in when you only have to move it all back out a few hours later; the soundcheck and the prep before the show and the fixing of yet another thing with gaffer tape, hoping it will hold one more time; the sound out front of the crowd who you know has traveled maybe hundreds of miles for no other reason but to see you in the flesh; the rumble getting louder and louder as they wait for you to appear from backstage; the burning heat and the sweat that drips off you as hundreds of fans stare in near-disbelief that they are really finally there right in front of you – that is what making music is about. Gary Numan has done all this hundreds of times and still manages to deliver a performance that feels new, energetic, and exciting. Appearing at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville on March 17, Numan once again showed that there are no drive-bys with him. From the pre-show meeting with VIP ticketholders to the last song, he gives everything to his appearance and performance each time. This was the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen him myself and at every performance he almost appears a little surprised at the extent of his fan base, and he speaks with humble and appreciative thanks to those who have turned out.
I spoke with Gary (it feels funny calling him “Numan”) at the VIP gathering before the show and he was funny and endearing with his remarks on his new home of Los Angeles and how much he and his family are enjoying it; working with other musicians; new friends made and old friendships strengthened since moving here; and how the English are still clinging to Rule Brittania.
Gary’s tour manager, Dave, ushered the group of about 15 VIP passholders into a side room at the venue and let us know GN would be down shortly to meet everyone. In he walked a few minutes later, wearing his usual combat boots, chain, and black-on-black clothing befitting his dark and heavy synthesizer-electronic-industrial sound, but his smile was warm and he seemed genuinely happy and almost surprised to see the turnout. Taking the time to talk to each person there let his personality come through; this is not someone going through the motions only because he has to. Some fans there had traveled from much farther than I had (I was up from Atlanta because he didn’t play here this leg since he was here last October). There were others from Atlanta and others who had been to dozens of shows on this tour and hundreds in all.
And when you think back to all we’ve been through does it make you cry?
I mentioned to him that I was from Atlanta and had not gone to his show last October at The Masquerade because I was already seeing the next night at the Mountain Oasis festival in Asheville, NC, and that I was positively kicking myself afterward – because not only was the Asheville show downright spectacular and I had missed a chance to have it twice, but one of my other favorite musicians Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails) had made a surprise appearance at The Masquerade. Robin played guitar on several tracks on the incredible Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), Gary’s latest release and his best since Pure, and being a NIN fan myself acquaintance of Robin’s, I was furious with myself for missing the Atlanta show. He broke into a huge smile at the mention of Robin and said that the gig wasn’t planned – he didn’t know Robin was going to show up. “He’s from here, you know, and he just showed up and wanted to play. He used to live there! [in The Masquerade] and wanted to see his old place again. I didn’t even know he was going to do it – but he wouldn’t have wanted me to tell anyone ahead of time anyway. He’s not like that.” I told him that I knew Robin and had worked with him on a guitar ad proposal a few years ago, and that he had been very kind to me with NIN passes, and he always says hello from the stage (I’m always in the front row, or shooting inside the barrier) – of course that brought a raised eyebrow and a look of “Sure he does,” and I laughed and said “I’m not having a fantasy – I actually do know him!” Gary continued on by saying that Robin and his wife Bianca are truly wonderful people and have become close friends to him and Gemma.[pullquote]GN: Bianca is fabulous, she’s teaching my kids the—the—[points upward]— Me: Acrobatics? The silks? GN: Yes–she used to be in the circus![/pullquote] He went on to say he was surprised to find out, when appearing with NIN last year, that the band don’t really hang around together all that much. “It’s so different with us – when we travel, we do everything together – we go out, we eat – with them they all kind of get their hotel rooms and then go off and do their own thing. We got to know Robin because one night we were all sitting there having a good time and I looked down and saw him just walking around this big pool, all by himself – so I [gestures] waved and said, ‘Come over here!’ And now they’re probably our best friends in LA – my wife and his wife are like that [crooks his fingers together].” I added that I knew they didn’t all hang out a lot – “I think Trent is pretty good friends with Ally, and with Danny [Lohner, former NIN touring bassist] – but I don’t think a lot of them really spend time together outside of touring – I guess they spend enough time together already.” That made him remember something – “Oh when first moved to LA, Trent invited us over – he was having a party, a children’s birthday party, and he asked to come. It was so nice – we didn’t know anyone yet at the time. Robin was there too. It was wonderful, having people ready to welcome us like that.” [Trent also provided Gary with a valuable and much-needed immigration statement during his “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” visa application.] I then asked how he liked LA and he said, “Oh it’s brilliant – the people are so friendly and open.” Of course this was almost hilarious to me, given LA’s reputation, and I said, “Really?! I do think California is beautiful but so many people in LA in your industry [entertainment] are so plastic and unfriendly …” “Oh no, everyone has been wonderful!” “Well that’s probably due to you.” “Ha, you want unfriendly, come to England to live. I am so glad we got away from there, and I’m English! Let me tell you a story, we were in London and Gem [Gary’s wife] was on the street trying to find some shop and she asked four people for help and all four just refused – actually held up a hand in her face to ward her off, like ‘No I’m too busy walking somewhere to help you,’ and then she asked a fifth person, who took out his iPad and got the directions and then actually showed her where the place was – first four were English and the last was an American, can you believe that?
“They – we – I’m the voice of the entire English people here – are unfriendly, unhelpful, and still think they’re something special because we conquered the world like 5 million years ago (rolleyes). LA is totally different – we love it there – go try living in London, you’ll want to leave within 5 minutes.”
I also said I was glad to have been at the Palladium in 2009 when he did a surprise guest appearance onstage (“Metal” and “Cars”) with Nine Inch Nails during their Wave Goodbye club tour, and when another person mentioned that she had seen him open for NIN twice last year in Florida, that started a discussion how that came about. He said, “I was a little wary at first of coming on before Nine Inch Nails; I have seen what their fans do to their openers – it’s scary,” – to which I became the voice of an entire group of people and blurted hastily, “Oh no, there is a huge overlap of NIN and Numan fans – most of them love you – don’t ever worry about yourself there!” The funniest part of a very relaxed and friendly meet-and-greet came about because one fan had brought a Bible from his hotel room and said he’d be honored to have Gary Numan sign it for him – Gary – a well-known self-professed atheist – laughed broadly and then picked it up with some trepidation, exclaiming “Ooh it’s burning!” as he tossed it in his hands like an ember from hell, face scrunched up with facetious horror. After an hour or so, it was time for the soundcheck, where they performed three songs and during which Gary talked about the history of his guitar. Soundchecks are always interesting because it’s like a show but … different. More laid back (and with less energy from both band and spectators, and less frenetic determination by spectators to “live the experience,”) fewer lights, much fewer people, and it’s a chance to see how they prepare and test the sound. It is a peculiar feeling, watching what appear to be regular people getting ready for their jobs, just as anyone does … soundcheck is real life; the actual show on stage is life on a higher plane.
What became of us? We’re here waiting for you, we are yours, we are waiting for you
Opening the show with the apocalyptic-sounding “Resurrection” off 2011’s Dead Son Rising, and then moving directly into the instantly recognizable heavy synth and bass intro of “I Am Dust” off Splinter, the setlist was a mix of older songs and new favorites, with many people shouting out the choruses to “We’re the Unforgiven,” “Here In The Black,” and “Love Hurt Bleed,” and whole stanzas to “Metal,” “Cars,” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”
Numan was moving almost constantly throughout the show – a huge contrast to his earlier-career white-faced robotic performance persona. He covered the whole open area of the stage, coming right to the edge just inches from the edge and the front row of audience (no barrier) several times, and rarely stood completely still at all even when at the mic. I joked on Twitter that Trent, whose shows I have photographed many times, got his very similar stage moves from Gary (whom he cites as a huge influence in his early days of creating his own brand of industrial-synth-electronica), but really, it’s probably the reverse: as Numan has changed and evolved his musical style and appearance over the years, he has picked up some of Trent’s style. There were several photos I took where the resemblance to my archive of Trent pictures is uncanny. And as a long-term hard-core NIN fan, I am sure I can hear a lot of NIN on Splinter.
I was always impressed by the way Gary Numan found his own voice–and it was unusual–but it was unmistakably him and boldly him. I see me doing what I learned from him.”
Closing out the main set was Pure’s “A Prayer For The Unborn,” followed by a brief exit and reappearance for a three-song encore consisting of a career-bracketing representation of songs: 1980’s single “I Die: You Die,” “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” from 1979’s Replicas, and the last song of the night from 2013’s Splinter, the plaintive and painful “My Last Day,” which is saved from being a complete downer in the lyrics by the slowly building crescendo of layer upon layer of a kind of lush and strangely hopeful palette of sound that most people would not even begin to call merely “electronica.” As the band exited for the final time, the din inside the venue went on and on until the lights finally went up and it was clear it was over and nobody was coming back out and the crowd started slowly stepping over the water bottles and crumpled-up tickets to head into the cold outside. Everything comes down to this.
The Splinter tour continues through April 6 in San Francisco, and they’ll be playing Australia and New Zealand in May and then Sonisphere in July.
Interesting thing happened at the end: I briefly fainted, probably due to the extreme heat and the strobes, while vainly trying to exit the front row. Hopefully the band didn’t get distracted too much by the people picking me up off the floor.
Photos and article for 10 Wire Up. © 2016 Maryelle St. Clare, all rights reserved.
A chance front-row ticket to see The Pogues in 2008 led me to curiously wonder who the photographer was in the aisle, who obviously had permission to be there with her pro camera. Those few minutes of seeing this person doing a job I hadn’t really noticed before opened a picture window for me and I immediately knew, “I want to do THAT.” And that was the start. When I’m not shooting bands, I’m probably still seeing them. Rail, baby, rail. It’s an addiction. See my photography, design, and retouching at maryelle-stclare.com.