GRUESOME GIGS: GARY NUMAN LIVE IN TORONTO

GARY NUMAN

The Opera House

Toronto ON

Oct. 24

Any worries that Gary Numan’s status in North America as a one-hit wonder would mean that no one would turn up to The Opera House to see the synth-pop icon and his band perform his seminal 1979 album The Pleasure Principle were pushed aside when the “Sold Out” sign was spotted on the east end Toronto venue’s door.

Indeed, Numan’s last appearance in Toronto, at The Mod Club in summer ’06, was equally well-attended, even though he was supporting a new studio album (Jagged) so the majority of the set list was devoted to material released within the last decade. Still, Numan dragged out old chestnuts like “Cars” (the one hit) and “Are Friends Electric?,” thrilling the mixed crowd of old devotees, Goths and young electro music fans.

Sunday’s show was equally diverse. From my coveted position on the balcony I spotted middle-aged suburbanites, young punks, pin-up girls, black-clad Goths of various vintages, all of them eager to see Numan recreate the album that made his name. Despite their differences, they were all there to worship at the feet of their idol.

When the lights finally dimmed, Numan took the stage looking fit and stylish in a simple black shirt and pants. Accompanying him were three keyboard players, a drummer and bassist, as well as a simple but effective light show. Numan was apparently suffering from a throat infection, but his vocals were clean and strong throughout, although I noticed for the first time that Principle is a largely instrumental album, no doubt a saving grace for his vocal chords.

Although a commercially-aimed exercise in nostalgia, Numan’s current tour still seems relevant, given his acknowledged influence upon the likes of Trent Reznor (who played “Cars,” “I Die: You Die” and “Metal” with Numan live last summer at various tour stops) and “M.E.”’s use by Basement Jaxx on their hit “Where’s Your Head At?” a few years ago. The crowd agreed, greeting each song with wild applause and hollers.

With his keyboard cleared away after dutifully delivering “Cars,” Numan strapped on a guitar and indulged in some well-rehearsed dramatic posturing as he performed more recent (and, to be honest, less memorable) material. Only “Down In The Park” excited huge applause, although newer, NIN-influenced songs were equally dramatic.

I admit that I left before show’s end, although I made it to the encore and Numan’s performance of “I Die: You Die.” Beyond that, as he continued to play newer but less engaging material, I gave up, happy to have indulged in nostalgia but also satisfied that I’d enjoyed Numan’s best.

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