This was made even stranger by the fact that I had bought the tickets in order to see a different support act, who cancelled to be replaced by Gang Of Four. John Foxx And The Maths were due to play, and I was interested to see the former Ultravox! lead singer, back when they were electronic pioneers and not the Midge Ure-fronted 80’s grandiose popsters.
Still, I love Gang Of Four, though I was initially disappointed to learn that guitarist Andy Gill was the only surviving original member – especially since they had reformed with the full four-piece from back in the day when I had seen them at the Barbican in September 2005.
This was apparently the first ever gig at the Exhibition Centre, with Brian Wilson to perform Pet Sounds there the following night. I assumed that would be a great gig, but as I’ve seen him three times before, including most recently doing that classic album, I gave that a miss in favour of Numan.
Although I’d obviously not been to the venue for a gig before, I had been there for a special black tie dinner in honour of reds legend Jamie Carragher, which culminated in hitting the dancefloor with My Beloved Wife alongside the likes of the man himself, John Barnes and Didi Hamann.
The set-up of the place isn’t ideal, with the standing area at the back, which resulted in my view not being all that great as there’s no slope to the place, and I was about five ‘rows’ back.
The before- and between-band music was suitably electronic/industrial, but I had timed it well enough to not have a long wait for Gang Of Four.
They kicked off their set with a very sparse, majestic version of Anthrax, the closing track off debut album Entertainment! They mixed up classic tunes with newer numbers such as 2015’s Sonic Youth-meets-The Birthday Party sounding Where The Nightingale Sings.
Not Great Men, another of the five songs played off Entertainment!, featured some great guitar from Andy Gill, not for the last time that night, but was perhaps a bit too bass-heavy, with singer Jon King missed on this number more than some others.
I Parade Myself edged a little too much towards Simple Minds for my liking and was followed by a brace from 1981’s Solid Gold – the Gill-spoken Paralysed with more fabulous guitar, and What We All Want that highlighted Thomas McNiece’s bass playing to great effect.
Do As I Say from 2011’s Content was my favourite of the post-reformation tracks, featuring some good twin vocals. Natural’s Not In It was then followed by another track from Entertainment!, the fabulously misanthropic, philophobic Damaged Goods.
At Home He’s A Tourist sounded a little muddy, but erupted with some joyous late shards of guitar, with Gill again performing six-string wonders on the closing To Hell With Poverty!, their 1981 Pop Group-esque single.
I was delighted by how vital Gang Of Four still were, despite the absence of King, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham, and I’d definitely go and see them again. I’m not sure if I’d buy any of their newer material, but I will certainly give some a listen.
They played enough of the classic tracks I love to keep me happy, with the only one I really missed being I Found That Essence Rare, a song I first heard via The Wedding Present’s radio session cover.
There had been occasional chants of “Nu-man” during Gang Of Four’s set, who clearly did not enthuse all of the audience – but no more so than most support acts.
After a short wait, out came Numan and band, with it soon becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to know many of the songs. Hardly surprising as I only know the bigger hits really.
Second number Films, one of four played off his 1979 solo debut The Pleasure Principle, was the first to be rapturously received, while another track off that record, Metal, was synth-washed industrial that reminded me a little of Ministry.
2006’s Pressure featured some great vocals – he’s still got the powerful, verging on self-parodic voice. Ghost Nation, one of several tracks played off his forthcoming new album (Savage (Songs From A Broken World)), was too bombastic for my tastes, with Numan continuing to come across as a strangely likeable but faintly preposterous industrial goth geek next door.
Some numbers were verging on being practically metal, with another track off The Pleasure Principle in M.E. generating a mass singalong, but a track I found rather underwhelming.
Here In The Black off 2013’s Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) featured a scratchy-voiced pseudo rap, and was followed by the emotional introduction of Gary’s daughter Persia who sang part of new single My Name Is Ruin, giving it an Arabic feel.
Finally there came a song I knew (which of course just says how little of his work I know, rather than any indictment of the set-list) in Cars, which I certainly enjoyed. After two more recent songs, off they went.
Obviously, Numan and band returned after the usual encore charade, with the additional songs being two of his biggest numbers in Down In The Park and Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, both officially Tubeway Army songs, off their second record, 1979’s Replicas.
So ended the set on a high note. I only knew three of the tracks he played – I don’t know all that many of his songs, but as I do have a compilation album of his I’d have expected more of the oldies I knew to have been featured. The ones that were new to me, while far from terrible, are likely to forever remain unfamiliar.
Overall, the night was well worth it for the still very impressive, surprisingly so, Gang Of Four, while I enjoyed some of Gary Numan without needing to revisit my opinion of him as not really my cup of tea.
I decided to honour the main act with my choice of another electronic pioneer – Sparks, which got me a compliment off a random passer-by who called them “righteous”. There were loads of different Numan t-shirts on display, while I also spotted Black Sabbath, The Human League and Joy Division.
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Here is much of the music from the night on Spotify: