The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the birth of two musical currents, as punk’s DNA divided and mutated. Some took the DIY ethos and, as untutored in technology as many punks had been in conventional instruments, applied it to the new wave of synths and drum machines. Meanwhile others pursued a more sophisticated rock which, often socially critical, explored more varied rhythms and more provocative guitar attacks. Gary Numan and the Gang of Four personified these trends at the time, but how would they come across over thirty years later? And would anyone be around to hear?

While not commanding the same audience as Numan, then or now, the Gang of Four still fully command the attention. he guitarwork of Andy Gill, (the sole original member) was sharp and stabbing, the sound of barbed wire strings.

Drummer Jonny Finigan and prowling bassist Thomas McNeice supplied a solid but supple underpinning. The curiously nicknamed John “Gaoler” Sterry was an energetic vocalist though not, to my ears, having as strong a voice as Jon King. Probably wisely, he made no attempt to emulate his predecessor’s elastic dancing style. Dark and lyrically angry, but always compulsively rhythmic, the Gang of Four are like a shadowed counterpart to African hi-life’s sun and lightness: English lo-life.

Half of the set revisited their 1979 debut ‘Entertainment!’, including strong versions of ‘Return the Gift’, ‘Not Great Men’ and ‘Damaged Goods’, songs that still thrill with their passion, especially the controlled frenzy of Gill’s guitar. Several early ‘80s numbers joined them - ‘Paralysed’, ‘He’d Send in the Army’ and ‘To Hell With Poverty’ - the music’s austerity and asperity reflecting the times, now as then.

Well-received as the Gang of Four were, they were given no time for a merited encore as there was no mistaking who the majority had come for. In the interval, sporadic football chants of “NUMAN!”, and even a couple of characters wandering about dressed in approximations of the top hat and coat he sports on the cover of 2013’s ‘Splinter’ album (his most commercially and artistically successful effort for many years) gave some hint of the mounting fervour. In the universe of the Numanoids, this gig - the end of a world tour and also a homecoming for Numan, who now lives in Los Angeles but whose ‘80s success was crystallised in gigs here when it was still the Hammersmith Odeon - was clearly expected to be something special.

Before a bank of screens that spanned the stage, Numan and his four-piece band opened with ‘Everything Comes Down to This’, the music crunching and compelling. He apologised early on that illness would probably hamper his performance. In the event, his characteristically limited vocal style and the crowd’s adoration allowed him to summon enough energy for a two-hour set.

This was followed by ‘Me, I Disconnect from You', one of many selections from his early years (such as an iron-hard ‘Metal’, the moody ‘Down in the Park’ and late on, a rousing ‘Cars’) that studded the set. His well-drilled band, with Numan himself playing little apart from occasional synth or guitar, performed these with the same slick conviction as the newer material, at times reaching genuinely powerful peaks, while lurid splintered images played continuously on the screens.

Despite the alienation expressed in ’Disconnect’, and the icy current that runs through much of the music, tonight Numan doesn’t hide his very human pleasure, often smiling at the warm response. His garb is no more exotic than a dark t-shirt and jeans, his dancing slightly awkward. Perhaps this explains the Numanoids’ love: he doesn’t really appear that different from many of the audience, and maybe they too would look a bit abashed, in late middle age, to be caught at home throwing shapes to his music. But there is still that crucial distance between performer and audience, Numan exerting a strange power so that a gesture from him is met by a flurry of raised arms, like a congregation of electrified evangelicals.

Naturally there were encores, the first, ‘Jo the Waiter’, a song from Tubeway Army days that began with Numan alone with an acoustic guitar in unplugged style which ended up sounding like a track from Bowie’s ‘Hunky Dory’. Equally naturally, the finale came with ‘Are Friends Electric?’, the keyboard line turned into an anthemic singalong: strange for a song whose inspiration reportedly derives from the dystopia of ‘Blade Runner’. But that’s people for you, pouring affection and passion into seemingly the most unpromising vessels and vehicles. For all that Numan began decades ago with an image which pushed the world away, for all that tonight he has performed before a giant Thomas Jerome Newton-like display of screens, he seems ultimately to be The Man Who Fell to Earth and Kept His Feet on the Ground.

Gang Of Four Set List:

Return the Gift
Not Great Men
I Parade Myself
He'd Send in the Army
Isle of Dogs
To Hell with Poverty
Damaged Goods

Gary Numan Set List:

Everything Comes Down To This
Me, I Disconnect from You
I am Dust
The Calling
Here in the Black
We Are So Fragile
The Fall
Dead Sun Rising
Down in the Park
I Die You Die
We're the Unforgiven
We are Glass
Love Hurt Bleed
My Last Day


Jo the Waiter
A Prayer for the Unborn
Are Friends Electric?

Photos by Melanie Smith

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