November 2, 2010
Better than: Carly Fiorina's concession speech.
News on the car radio spoke in graveyard tones of a wholesale rout for President Obama and Democrats as we inched through traffic to the Fillmore for my first-ever visit. Months of ritual media invocations of gridlock, divided counsels, and ruin snapped off the second we found parking and door staff at this ancient rockist institution expertly saw us inside, where scores of clubkids and New Wave geezers paraded shaved heads and yards of tattooed skin. On the P.A., David Bowie was giving his usual elegant summation
Oh no, not me.
We never lost control.
You're face to face
With the man who sold the world
as the minutes wound down to the opening act. The crunky electronica of transatlantic duo Motor reminded me of a twilight chainsaw duel I saw at Burning Man 2010, and offered about as much tonal interest. The punters stood rooted, their faces wearing the same look of doughy indifference until the undercard shut down and a long interval passed. Finally, the fog machine sputtered to life, a rock band slumped negligently into place and the headliner swaggered out like Harry Lime. Gary Numan today still owns a few stylish traces of the weird kohl-eyed kid who had had a massive hit with "Cars" back in 1979, and age has given him appropriate gravitas as master of dark revels.
The first half of the set was his breakthrough album The Pleasure Principle
performed in harrowing entirety. Voice trouble earlier in the tour led to cancelling a show in Atlanta, but by the time the star leaned into the mic to intone
We're in the building where they make us grow,
And I'm frightened of the liquid engineers
it was plain his trademark distracted yawlp was undamaged and could still own a room. And own this one Numan did, drawing huge cheers at the end of every song and carrying the audience with him into less familiar material in the second half while posing Byronically and working the crowd with his icy charm at full force. He wears the mantle of one-hit wonder poorly, and is given to fretting in the prints about being a nostalgia act, but we can safely dismiss this as mere nitpicking. The headliner was getting as much love as any new-minted officeholder in the far shittier world outside and he worked harder for it. Unlike politics, there are no excuses in rock 'n' roll.
Random notebook dump: The newer material, though fresh, is of a piece with Numan's iconic woom-boom-wukka-wukka.