Gary Numan's Savage Tour Comes to Pennsylvania
Not long after his show in Lancaster, PA, ended, Gary Numan took to social media to say that, in the hours leading up to that night's event, he'd been nervous, thinking he'd be playing to an empty room. That particular show had been a late addition to the tour schedule, announced long after tickets for his concerts at Philadelphia's Union Transfer and the 9:30 Club in Washington DC had gone on sale. His fear was understandable – with other nearby options, who would make the trek out to a small club in the middle of central Pennsylvania's Amish country on a frigid December night?
As it turned out, quite a few people would.
Fans packed into the Chameleon Club's vestibule long before the doors opened. All ages were represented – folks who last saw him more than thirty-five years ago when he toured in support of his smash album The Pleasure Principle, as well as kids whose parents had been children themselves in those days of the early 1980s. The mass of people who arrived early were reated to a new wave, industrial set by DC-based DJ Neidermeyer (aka Matt Ritter), a Chameleon Club staple, which segued into the hypnotic, electronic sounds of Void Vision. The Philly-based artist (whose name is Shari Vari) held the crowd captivated as much by her impassioned vocals as by the intensity of her kohl-lined gaze, framed as it was by a dramatic, blood-red lace veil.
The venue had been crowded for the openers, but though it wasn't sold out, by the time the house lights were extinguished, the Chameleon Club's small, dusky room was full, people lining three- and four-deep in the balcony that ran along one side of the building. In the blackness, the main act emerged from the wings, Numan himself bringing up the rear. He assumed the place at the center of the stage, his physical presence both looming and dream-like in the strobing stage lights, the buzzsaw of the guitar and synthesizer at once sinister and anticipatory, giving the audience a taste of the spectacle that was to come.
Because make no mistake, Numan's shows are much more than mere concerts. While his music is evocative and atmospheric enough on its own, it becomes an assault on all senses when experienced live, a visually and aurally stimulating piece of performance art. While stage lighting is usually best when it's unnoticed by the audience, in this instance it was a highly effective tool used to create an ominous, futuristic dreamscape, at times offering only the briefest glimpse of the band through laser-like beams, at others turning a blinding whiteness on the audience. The wash of colors across Numan's face erased the lines etched there and melted away the years so that he could have been his twenty-five-year old self, riding the high of having just released "Cars", the single that would see him become a pioneer of the new-wave era and a household name in the '80s. The deconstructed clothing that he and his band wore – shreds of linen the color of dusty sand that wound around their bodies like shrouds – and the smudges of black and white paint that streaked their faces strongly evoked the theme of his new album, Savage (Songs From a Broken World),that of a post-apocalyptic, desert wasteland. And during the hour-and-a-half long set, Numan brought the audience along on his exploration of this wasteland.
The night saw him highlight tracks that spanned all four decades of his career, but as each song bled seamlessly into the next with only the briefest pause in between, it felt as if they were meant to be played in that precise order. Combining the pulsing, electronic beats with stark, frenetic lighting, the atmosphere began to feel like a rave, an intoxicating, irresistible opportunity to become completely absorbed by the music, a feeling from which the band wasn't exempt. Numan thrashed and danced, pausing only when he needed to pick up a guitar or play the keys, and he was bookended by bassist Tim Muddiman and guitarist Steve Harris, both of whom stalked the stage like angry, caged animals and were riveting in their own right. The one song whose inclusion felt out of place is the one Numan couldn't have avoided playing. When the iconic opening notes of "Cars" began towards the end of the set, the audience's hypnosis was snapped, jarred back into the present by the reminder that they were standing before rock 'n' roll royalty. But he would return them to his new, bleaker vision of the world soon enough – for that moment, though, they gleefully rode the wave of nostalgia.
Numan rarely broke character during the set, preferring instead to maintain a glaring intensity. But as the show wound to a close, he couldn't contain his joy any longer. A broad smile would appear as the crowd roared its approval at the close of each song, and as he took a bow after his closing number (the hit "Are 'Friends' Electric?"), he seemed touched and overwhelmed by the ovation he received, an ovation that was well-deserved. For any artist who has been in the public eye for a length of time, allowing oneself to evolve, let alone avoid falling into self-parody, can be challenging. But with a consistently stellar body of work behind him, and performances that are as electrifying and provocative now as they were decades ago, Gary Numan proves that he not only still relevant, but revolutionary.
Setlist for Gary Numan, Chameleon Club, Lancaster, PA
Everything Comes Down to This
Bed of Thorns
Down in the Park
Pray for the Pain You Serve
Here in the Black
Love Hurt Bleed
My Name is Ruin
When the World Comes Apart
A Prayer for the Unborn
Are "Friends" Electric?
Coverage by Colleen Martin & Rich Russo RP Russo Photography
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