Gary Numan | Pop review

Brighton Dome

Viewers of BBC4's Synth Britannia would have seen Gary Numan's peers virtually queuing up to heap praise on Middlesex's foremost purveyor of dystopian pop electronica. Which was something of a surprise: at the height of his fame, one of Numan's weirder characteristics was his ability to attract hatred from other musicians. His hero David Bowie had him thrown off a television show, then wrote a song about how much he disliked him. "I've never met the guy," chipped in Mick Jagger, "but he's one of those people you absolutely loathe."

Listening to him perform his biggest album, 1979's The Pleasure Principle, it's difficult to see why anyone was so upset by him, unless they had an aversion to choral-sounding synthesizers and songs about alienated robots: Engineers and Conversation bear the mark of a man adept at balancing commerciality with more avant-garde concerns. That's not to say there aren't problems here. In more recent years, Numan has reinvented himself as a godfather of industrial rock. Occasionally, The Pleasure Principle's songs sound awkward resting on top of the genre's standard-issue distorted bass guitar and pummelling drums, something that, to his credit, doesn't seem to pass Numan by. "That was a bit rubbish actually," he offers between songs.

Indeed, he seems more comfortable performing newer material. So do his fans: weirdly subdued even during Cars, they get more excited when he breaks out the distorted guitars, which must be gratifying for the man on stage: perhaps uniquely among his 80s contemporaries, Numan's fans seem less interested in his past than his present. Headbanging, synthpop's former whipping boy looks like a man enjoying the last laugh.

At Sub 29, Cardiff (02920 230 130) tonight, then touring.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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