Photography: John Johnson / @John_Johno

Gary Numan

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  • I Speak Machine
Liverpool Olympia

The juxtaposition of pale, white skin on a brutalist canvas of jet black streaked with jarring stripes of red proves early on that, to GARY NUMAN, theatre and drama are just as important as the music that’s packaged within. So it seems almost perfect for the 80s icon to be performing at the Olympia tonight. The extravagantly carved elephants, the flaking gilt paint which covers the walls, and the vertigo-inducing heights of the top balcony seem a fitting theatre for him. Come this cold September night somewhere just out of town, it’s obvious that support for tonight’s headline act is far from flaking. A sea of black awaits us in a variety of forms from leather jackets to thick eyeliner.

Having made our way through the theatre’s grand doors, we find ourselves watching the brilliant I SPEAK MACHINE. Tara Busch and Maf Lewis, who make up the audiovisual duo, formed a close relationship with Numan when they created a zombie short featuring his kids – and it’s easy to see how Numan’s inspiration infiltrates their musical work, beyond connections of friendship. Creating soaring analogue synth soundscapes, Busch – the musical element of the multimedia duo – narrowly avoids Numan’s pop roots in favour of something slightly more brutal. Backed by Lewis’ strikingly bold imagery, Busch paints vivid pictures twiddling knobs and hitting keys whilst occasionally punctuating the landscapes with wildly distorted vocals.

Having suitably established the mood with a set saturated with sounds and very few words, it’s time for the cult leader to deliver his sermon to his devoted followers. A series of neon red beams fly at the audience to announce Numan’s arrival, refracting off the mass of bald heads which swim below, acting like a beacon for the electro pioneer. Having lost the withdrawn robotism of his early years, there seems to have been an almost Kafkaesque transformation, with Numan appearing more like a rock god. He is followed on stage by his band, who, slightly incongruously, have the air of a Danish black metal band. However, the addition of the big rock guitars and the full band adds just another dimension to his music.

Primarily leaving the instruments to his bandmates, Numan has full room to manoeuvre about the stage and take hold of the audience, which he does with aplomb as he oscillates wildly about the stage. Casting behemoth shadows amidst the dazzling light show, he really does put on a show, keeping the audience firmly in his grasp the entire time. Proving that there’s more to the man than Cars and Are Friends Electric?, even to those there for the novelty, the noir figure offers a  distinctive performance which takes us on a multi-sensory tour de force as striking on the eyes as it is on the ears. It may be getting on for 40 years since Numan first performed, but it seems like the synthesiser god is immortal, playing like it’s still 1979.

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