Gig review: Gary Numan and The Skaparis Orchestra, Glasgow

Last night, I went to the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow to catch the final date of Gary Numan’s latest UK tour. I’ve long been a fan of his work, and I’ve seen him twice before, so there was a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air as I headed to the venue.

Previously, I’ve seen him at the O2 ABC in Glasgow, first in 2016 on his classic albums tour, where his setlist consisted entirely of tracks from “Replicas”, “The Pleasure Principle” and “Telekon”, and then again last year, on the tour promoting his latest album, “Savage”. Both were gloriously loud, sweaty and spectacular experiences, showing that even his oldest material sounds incredibly fresh when performed live, and that his newest material is easily as good as anything he’s ever done. This gig, however, promised to be a little different, and that’s why it was held in a rather different venue – he was performing with The Skaparis Orchestra, and seeing him with a full orchestral accompaniment really was too good an opportunity to miss.

Gary Numan gigs are very goth experiences. The crowd contains a liberal dose of back-combed hair, stompy boots, leather, a few corsets, and a lot of black. Because he’s been around for such a long time, I usually find myself on the fairly young side of the audience too, which is always nice! Tonight was no exception, and it was fun seeing the goths take over a classical music venue for the night. Stereotypes aside, there’s a huge range of ages and styles and faces in his crowds, which shows his music has long-lasting appeal, and has attracted a new generation of fans.

The show started off with a set from Chris Payne. I’d not heard his name before, but he was one of the members of Gary’s band back in Tubeway Army days, and he performed with him regularly up to 1989. He’s been quite a prolific songwriter and composer, and he performed some recent material, with his wife providing vocals, and he was very good. He’s one of the writers of the classic Visage hit “Fade to Grey”, and he finished off with a really atmospheric and impressive version of this track, which has always been one of my favourites. It was largely instrumental, with only the French vocals, and it sent bit of a shiver down my spine as soon as I recognised the intro – it stands out as the unexpected bonus moment of the night, and it led into the main event perfectly.

After a long and very impressive orchestral build-up, Gary’s band came onto the stage, followed by the man himself, launching into “Ghost Nation”, the opening track on “Savage”. This has an absolutely thumping bassline and is hugely impressive live. This tour was clearly a continuation of the last, with material from the new album featuring prominently, and the visuals and costumes continuing the desert nomad theme, rather different from Gary’s dystopian android of the past. There’s still a very dark and slightly tortured undercurrent to a lot of his music, though, I think reflecting the rather difficult times he’s had in his life. He’s on the autistic spectrum and struggled a lot with that for some time, which probably led to his aloof and rather disengaged manner, but he seems happier and more fulfilled now than he’s been in a long time. These days, he’s a lot more mobile and demonstrative on stage, lapping up the adoration he gets from committed fans who have stuck with him through some tough times. His career peaked when he was very young, and then his fortunes dropped off a cliff, both personally and professionally. More recently, though, he’s been able to do what he wants, unencumbered by record labels and the need to shift vast quantities of albums, and his enjoyment of what he’s doing really shows.

At times, the orchestra were a little drowned out by the synths and guitars from Gary’s band, but they added a level of depth and richness to his music that really worked. It’s worth bearing in mind that Numan’s earliest material is now 40 years old, and sometimes I think the recordings sound a bit flat and lifeless. He’s amazingly good at keeping the old hits sounding fresh, though, and he segued straight from his new opener to “Metal”, an old classic that is one of my absolute favourites. Numan really ratchets up the guitar and bass in his older tracks when he performs them live, which makes them sound incredible, but with an orchestra thrown in as well, it really was something else. Other tracks from his early years included “Down In The Park”, “Films” and “Are Friends Electric?” – hearing this one with soaring strings over the amazing synths was really spectacular and probably the highlight of the show. The live version of the song absolutely stomps all over the recorded one anyway, but last night….wow. I think my jaw hit the floor at that moment. “Cars” was conspicuous by its absence, but I’ve seen him do that before, so I’ll let him off! For some time, Gary seemed reluctant to perform a lot of his early classics, but there’s enough for most people now, and of course the first time I saw him a couple of years ago, the setlist was all the classics you can eat. This show emphasised that he’s really able to serve up something different each time he tours, and I guess that’s why the same people come back again and again.

Gary was a proud dad last night, bringing his youngest daughter Persia on stage to perform in a couple of tracks, including “My Name Is Ruin”, one of the best ones on “Savage”. She was superb, and remarkably confident given that she’s only about twelve, as far as I can tell. The rest of the regular band were great as per usual, and the lighting was a visual feast too. Gary is now in his sixties, but he shows no sign of letting up in terms of his ability to innovate and provide a fantastic night of entertainment. It was a seated venue, but most of us were on our feet within a few songs, and the atmosphere truly was…well, electric. It’s always a good sign when you leave a venue wanting more, and I was absolutely buzzing as I walked through a wet Glasgow night back to my hotel. I hope he tours in the UK again soon, because if he does, I’m totally there.

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