Friday, September 6, 2013

Gary Numan concert review: Santa Ana, Calif.

My review originally appeared at 
Photos by David Hall.

For the longest time, rock musicians who came to fame in the ‘70s and ‘80s yet still put out vital new material have been routinely dismissed at commercial alternative radio.

It’s almost as if there’s a secret age cutoff for airplay before getting relegated to “adult” rock stations, if the song isn’t too edgy (Sirius XM is a less restrictive option).

Case in point: Gary Numan, whose next solid studio effort Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind) is due Oct. 15. If anyone deserves to be heard at rock radio today, it’s this native of Hammersmith, England, best known stateside for the Top 10 hit “Cars” in 1979.

Since the mid-2000s, his public profile has increased thanks to younger artists covering or sampling his work, a list of admirers that includes Foo Fighters, Marilyn Manson, the Dead Weather, Basement Jaxx, Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA and Nine Inch Nails.

In 2011, the electro/industrial pioneer collaborated with experimental New York City group Battles. More recently, the still-ubiquitous “Cars” can be heard in a Radio Shack television ad for the Samsung Galaxy 4 phone.

The NIN association, however, is an important one. Numan was a special guest on some of that outfit’s 2009 club dates and will open two shows for it next month in Florida. That band’s chief guitarist, Robin Finck, contributed to several of the new Splinter tracks.

Already in town playing with Trent Reznor’s project the night before at the Troubadour, he appeared onstage Wednesday for a third of the headliner’s crowded Observatory show as well.

The last time Orange County hosted Numan was seven years ago. His hard-hitting, 90-minute return here definitely didn’t disappoint.

Long known for focusing on the now – his 2010 tour surrounding 1979 landmark The Pleasure Principle, including two stellar El Rey gigs, was a rare look back – Numan delivered a 19-song set in Santa Ana that primarily dated from after the turn of the millennium.

Eerie instrumental “Resurrection” (the first of four tracks off previous studio album Dead Son Rising) played before Numan emerged, arms aloft, wielding an electric guitar and bathed in red lights. A slinky, grinding take on “The Fall” and the crushing assault of “Haunted” packed quite a wallop.

Content to let the music do all the talking, Numan, 55, slithered around and struck messianic poses between hushed vocals and occasional guitar-slashing. His four-piece band, anchored by Mark G. Thwaite (longtime guitarist for Peter Murphy who is also known for stints with the Mission UK, Tricky and Spear of Destiny), provided just the right amount of light and shade amid the mantralike phrasings of new tune “We’re the Unforgiven” and “Dead Son Rising.”

When they first indulged a Principle twofer, including the lurching “Metal” (led by Ade Fenton’s soaring synth) and the icy “Films,” the crowd went crazy, and I spotted a poor young boy without earplugs who looked disturbed by the loudness of it all. Following in close succession were two more mesmerizing classics: “Down in the Park” and “Cars.” Numan hunched forward to sing on the former, while the latter featured fine staccato work from Thwaite.

Among the “Splinter” selections previewed, the heavy industrial thrust of “Love Hurt Bleed” fared best. The songwriter has a penchant for that mood; he also served up one called “When the Sky Bleeds, He Will Come.”

Finck rejoined the band during the encores. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” was exhilarating as ever, beginning with quiet piano and slowly building to some fervent audience participation. Finally, the glorious synth and racing pace of “I Die: You Die” (hardly played at recent shows) ended this rare appearance on a high note.

Serving as the warm up was LA alt-rock band Kitten in a dreadful 45-minute set that I couldn't wait to end. Fronted by a female sex kitten who couldn't sing and recalled X-Ray Spex or The Cramps, they massacred The Penguins' doo wop classic "Earth Angel" and Depeche Mode's "Policy of Truth." The original material fared worse.

Numan returns to play Oct. 17 at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, $35.
See more photos at

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