Oakland Metro Opera House
Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013
Better than: Sitting at home listening to the new NIN album while staring into a strobe light.
It was far from the warmest day of the summer in the Bay Area Tuesday night, but you wouldn't have known that after stepping into to the Oakland Metro Opera House to see U.K. synth-rock pioneer Gary Numan. A major figure able to headline arenas in his native country, Numan remains better known in the States for his massive 1979 hit "Cars" than for the major influence his chilly, futuristic sounds has had on Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor and other industrial-rock acolytes.
The sauna-like atmosphere at the Metro hung in the unmoving air, fogging glasses and bringing beads of sweat to the foreheads of the black-clad Numanoids gathered to pay homage to their hero. But the warm, wet blanket of discomfort didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, even when faced with the late start of openers Cold Cave.
The darkwave/synth pop duo fronted by singer Wesley Eisold elicited some cheers, even if the songs were a little obvious in their appropriation of influences. Instead of connecting the dots to the specific Cure and New Order tunes being hijacked, we convened in front of an industrial fan in one of the Metro's side rooms for a brief respite from the heat.
By 10 p.m., the audience started getting restless, pushing forward and filling gaps on the floor in anticipation of the headliner. Many of his '80s new-wave contemporaries may be relegated to churning out rote versions of their MTV hits on the county-fair circuit, but Numan's steady string of albums exploring a heavier industrial sound has kept loyalists happy while earning him a whole new generation of fans. When the lights finally dimmed and the band took the stage to the ribcage-rattling bass of the taped instrumental "Resurrection," the collective freakout vibe in the room was palpable.
Strapping on a guitar, Numan and company authoritatively crunched out the title track from his 2000 album Pure, his voice soaring over the tune's pulsing thicket of distorted guitars and synth drones. The fans in front of the stage screamed and pumped their fists in time to the grinding beat as night of bracing death-disco got underway.
Whether it's Pilates, yoga, hair implants or regularly imbibing the fresh blood of children, the trim singer cut a figure that looked far younger than his 55 years in his worn T-shirt and tight black jeans. Similarly, Numan's versatile pipes have lost nothing with age, delivering the gems "Metal" and "Films" from 1979's The Pleasure Principle in precisely the same voice he sang them with over three decades ago.
One might have expected a more reserved reception for the new songs from Numan's forthcoming album Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) given the audience's lack of familiarity, but the hook-laden choruses and propulsive drums of "I Am Dust" and "Love Hurt Bleed" were greeted with the same enthusiasm as the classic hits.
True, there was a bit of an exodus after the celebratory performance of "Cars" late in the band's set, but the bulk of the crowd was happy to linger into the night. They were rewarded with the crushing latter-era tune "Halo" before Numan and his band answered the raucous demand for an encore with a haunting take on the majestic industrial ballad "Prayer For the Unborn." A dramatically rearranged version of "Are 'Friends' Electric?" stripped instrumentation down to just acoustic piano before blossoming into its familiar two-note synth pulse and probably the most enthusiastic singalong of the night, sending the remaining Numanoids home sweaty but satisfied.
Personal bias: Gary Numan stands as another one of my teenage obsessions who continues to deliver the goods decades later. Every Nine Inch Nails fan should be required to attend at least one Numan show in their lifetime.
Random notebook dump: I was too busy mopping sweat off my head with napkins to take any notes.
Everything Comes Down to This
I Am Dust
Dead Sun Rising
Down in the Park
We're the Unforgiven
When the Sky Bleeds, He Will Come
Love Hurt Bleed
A Prayer for the Unborn
Are 'Friends' Electric?