LIVE: Gary Numan @ OVO Wembley, London
“Who was here last time?” asked Gary Numan mid-way through his mammoth two-hour set at the newly renamed OVO Wembley arena. The “last time” he was referring to was his run of 1981 shows at the same venue, which gained notoriety when the synth-pop pioneer (perhaps naively) announced his retirement from live performance after disillusionment with chart success and an unfair battering by the British music press.
It’d be fair to say that he never again reached the level of fame he achieved at the age of just 23, but here he was back at Wembley, back on his own terms.
Numan said in a recent interview that “credibility is very valuable”. Clearly scarred by his previous era in the spotlight, the man who brought sci-fi weirdness and introspection to the mainstream has since ignored any calls to replicate his earlier hits - these days he shares more in common with Nine Inch Nails than Tubeway Army, fully leaning into a harsher aesthetic and thundering industrialism.
And his adoring legion of fans have stuck by him. Even before he leapt on stage, the 12,000-strong crowd were chanting “Nu-Man, Nu-Man” as though they were noisy neighbours from the stadium next door. Never one to skimp on theatrics, Numan was primed and ready to give his fans - from whichever period they became familiar with his music - a proper show. Getting the opportunity to tour his latest album, Intruder, for the first time, he also made plenty of room for the tracks that characterise the “machine” era of his career.
Backed by an impressive audiovisual display, Numan nimbly flounced across the stage with the kind of expressive energy that’d make even YUNGBLUD blush. It was a far cry from the anxious android persona he embodied during his earlier years, showing swagger and showmanship you wouldn’t have necessarily associated with his former robotic, retiring image. But then he’s had over forty years of evolution since his previous Wembley performances, though dystopian imagery remains his calling card.
‘Metal’ and ‘Films’ from 1979’s The Pleasure Principle got an industrial makeover, whilst his daughters that collaborate on his newer records joined their dad on stage on ‘Is This World Not Enough’, ‘A Black Sun’, and ‘My Name Is Ruin’, before perennial electro-pop banger ‘Cars’ encouraged the crowd to pull out their best C-3PO-inspired movements. Sadly, there was an omission of ‘Music For Chameleons’, but it wasn’t to stop the OVO crowd from dishing out ovations at any given chance.
“I’ve only been doing that song for forty years…” Numan joked after a cock-up during ‘M.E.’ meant a restart, which was soon followed by set-closer ‘Are Friends Electric?’. The cult icon has kept his admirers waiting over four decades for another Wembley show - good thing he didn’t announce his retirement this time around.