Gary Numan @Markthalle (Hamburg): Review

Growing up in Sweden and becoming an avid music listener at an early age, there were two types of music that caught my interest: Swedish punk music in general, especially Ebba Grön, and all albums released by Jean-Michel Jarre, especially the iconic Oxygene record, released in 1976.

However, a cousin made sure I found another direction. First, he gave me Depeche Mode’s debut album on my birthday in 1981 just a few weeks after its release. And that opened up for theft. Because, secondly, I snatched a copy of Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle from his collection (and never returned it, sorry!), an iconic album made in the late 70s.

Swedish punk music, Depeche Mode and Gary Numan were super important for shaping my music taste as a young boy. However, just like most kids do, you change your taste in music when you grow older, and somewhere during a transitional period starting in 1989 with Nine Inch Nails and, a few years later, the whole grunge scene, I left electronic music behind me. Synthpop and New Wave weren’t really my “thing” anymore.

Industrial rock has stayed with me ever since the Nine Inch Nails debut album Pretty Hate Machine (1989), and imagine the surprise when a friend of mine asked me somewhere around 2003 “Dude, have you listened to Gary Numan’s new compilation Hybrid, it’s awesome”, and I may have snorted back “Yeah, I grew tired of synthpop ages ago”. And then he put it on. Epic reworks of his old songs turned into industrial metal masterpieces; “Dominion Day” has been my favorite Numan song ever since the release of Hybrid.

From that day, Gary Numan returned to my record collection and the last ten years have seen the arrival of some banger albums, each slightly better than the last – Dead Son Rising (2011), Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) (2013), Savage (Songs From a Broken World (2017) and last year’s Intruder. And just bear this in mind. His debut album The Pleasure Principle, released in 1979, reached no.1 on the UK charts, Intruder entered the second position – 42 years later! I promise you won’t see any Taylor Swifts’ or Britney Spears’ repeat that – ever! 

Today, 40 years after my theft, zillions of Swedish punk shows and seventeen Depeche Mode gigs later, I’m standing in front of the stage at Markthalle in Hamburg, like a young boy again, at my first Gary Numan show ever. I probably don’t need to say it, I’m quite biased when writing this review.

After a stellar performance by the support act I Speak Machine – check her out – the band entered the stage, and if you happen to be a fan of American hardcore band Youth of Today you would probably have thought that Numan had hired the frontman and the guitarist of the band for the bass and guitar work tonight. Both were dressed in Mad Max outfits, just like Numan, to fit the cover art theme from the last years’ albums. Numan turned up seconds later to the rhythms of “Intruder” and two songs later the vibes of “Metal” pumped through Markthalle, and from that point, it was full-on industrial rock night that probably have its only competitor in one of those million-dollar Nine Inch Nails shows.

Instead of pointing out the best songs, because I find it a tough challenge with such an awesome set (although “Love Hurt Bleed” and “Metal” are amazing on a night like this), I rather emphasize what didn’t work – both my favorite 80s singles, “Cars” and “Are Friends Electric?”. They’re just too ‘bright and happy’ to fit into the imagery of a dystopian world that is being built by those heavy industrial pieces making up for the rest of the set. But I get it, he has to play them. It’s his major 80s hits, and the sixty-year-old man that joined me tonight almost started a moshpit when “Cars” turned up. I just wanted the night to be a full-on dark evening, even if my favorite songs have to be left out.

What’s even more impressive than the setlist is the performance. The Youth of Today bassist and guitarist (I can’t let go of it, sorry) moves back and forth, run across the stage, and interact with the crowd in eerie ways which doesn’t leave a second for getting bored. At times I even get a bit scared of the guitarist’s peculiar behavior, staring and pointing at people – just like the biker leader in the first Mad Max movie – but it’s a perfect fit with the show. And then we haven’t talked about the man himself.

Gary Numan is the epitome of a professional performer. While most of my childhood heroes have started to become a bit dull on stage – let’s say tired, shall we – Numan is all about vitality and vigor. I know, we shouldn’t talk about age in a world plagued by ageism, but reflecting on my own life, passing over the hill a few years ago, I can’t stop being amazed about how he pulls it off. With vigor and flexibility – and endurance – that would make most artists in their early thirties full of envy, Numan bends in positions I haven’t been able to do for the last ten years (and I’m a few years younger), accompanied by frantically movements by the YoT men. The composition of the performance and how it’s pulled off is like being in a dystopian movie.

Do I have to point out that I had to change t-shirts before I left? I didn’t have any water left in my body.

I could continue to blabber about zillions of happenings during the show but need to cut it a bit short to make sure that anyone would read this review at times when people’s attention span isn’t longer than a 60-second video on TikTok. To wrap it up; Gary Numan is the embodiment of music professionalism and a rock star. His latest four albums show that there’s a lot more left of his creativity to pave the way for at least four more albums.

Please, continue for another decade, and please return to Hamburg soon again.

About J.N.

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.