Gary Numan has always had something of a cult-like status among his fans but the past five years have been particularly significant for one of the founding fathers of the synth/industrial movement. Having last played Belfast a decade ago, Numan returns to the city on the back off Savage (Songs from a Broken World), his most successful release since he first entered the scene forty years ago.
It’s an unsurprising crowd tonight, the main man onstage recently turned sixty and a good number of those in attendance have joined him in that particular milestone. That’s not to say everyone got here tonight using their free bus pass, a multi-generational crowd fills the almost sold out Limelight to hear one the biggest influences of many of their favourite artists today.
With latest album Savage drawing on the concepts of a post-apocalyptic world, Numan and his band took to the stage in their now familiar nomadian garb. Kicking off with album opener “Ghost Nation“, the wall of sound that erupted was most likely why many of us went to bed that night with ringing in our ears. Thankfully, a few tweaks here and there brought a more balanced mix into the venue for “Halo” from his 2006 release Jagged.
Accompanying the music, a number of screens synchronised perfectly with the events onstage, triggering the senses with every flash and beat. It wasn’t long until the first gem of the night arrived in the form of “Down in the Park” from his 1979 number-one album Replicas. The slightly adapted classic took on a loftier tone with the use of synth tracking, removing that cosmic and haunting sound from the original.
With a catalogue of over twenty albums, the majority of Numan’s set compromised of material from 2000 onwards with over half the set from the aforementioned Savage (Songs from a Broken World) and 2013’s Splinter (Song from a Broken Mind). More comfortable with a rockier and industrial sound, tracks like “Pray for the Pain You Serve” and “Love Hurt Bleed” are perfect examples of the music he paved the way for but spent so long trying to nail down himself.
Despite little to no interaction with the crowd, Numan’s presence and demeanour never once suggest indifference or tedium. Instead, the energy and commitment to each and every song made up for the often mindless banter witnessed at the majority of gigs today. Dancing back and forward with points to the sky, the frontman never faltered once, hitting the mic on each and every cue.
Next up was sadly what most of the audience had been waiting for, you guessed it; “Cars“. For three minutes the Limelight was transformed into a club from the eighties with neon blue and pink spotlights alternating and stobbing to the nostalgic throwback that made Numan the star he is today. A fantastic rendition but sadly the only thing worthy of attention to many of those in attendance, as on its completion a noticeable hum of chatter and flashes of selfies started again from what seemed to be a “good oul meet up with the girls/lads“.
Rounding out the set with “Are Friends Electric?“, the triumvirate of expected classics was fulfilled and like the other throwbacks of the night, it came with a much funkier beat than the clinical and pitchy originals. With this, a number of the crowd decided to make tracks but for those willing to stay out past 11.30pm on a school night, an encore of “A Prayer for the Unborn” and the poignant “My Last Day” closed out an age-defying set from the sexagenarian.
While industrial and electronic acts eclipsed the progenitor through the nineties and noughties, Gary Numan has firmly reestablished himself as an evolving part of a scene he inspired so many years ago.