Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisAmerica may best know Gary Numan from the one hit wonder bins thanks to his creation of "Cars," the synthesizer driven single that is often considered a launching pad for the new wave movement. The single came on the heels of parting ways with his original group Tubeway Army and launched the solo artist to superstar status virtually overnight. While his stock certainly rose for the music buying public in the U.K., it would prove to be the singer/songwriter's only major stateside hit, which despite its iconic run on the radio over the years, had left minimal demand for Numan on the concert circuit. However that all changed come the late 1990s when the chameleon gave himself a industrial/gothic/metal makeover and scored shout outs from the Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and an even more metallic cover of "Cars" by Fear Factory.
Of course, Numan's U.S. fan base remains a cult-ish niche, but the momentum has held out enough to launch a full-fledged tour this year in support of Jagged (Metropolis) a brooding and often times downright murky offering that's once again steeped in industrial rhythms and goth undertones. That darker motif also meant a mix-up in the set list come his latest House of Blues appearance, which Numan guarded with the following website disclaimer: "Anyone looking for a trip down memory lane, well you might as well sell your ticket now because that isn't going to happen." That statement alone made the venue's numbers somewhat on the small side (the balcony was completely closed) leaving only extremely faithful followers in attendance who were curious for exactly what ground would be covered.
While ample early material was out of the question (since he's embarking on a brief tour overseas in December playing old school albums like Telekon and various deep cuts) "Cars" was thankfully in the cards. The tune still holds up after reaching silver anniversary status and benefited from beefed up percussion and electronic programming. But the bulk of the 85-minute evening revolved around more recent strides, which at times could've appealed to followers of Nine Inch Nails, Manson and even middle career Ministry, though many moments also sagged with bulky beats and overblown angst.
On a positive note, tunes like the new "Halo" and 2000's "Pure" were incredibly insistent and attention commanding, demonstrating how a seemingly retro artistic could evolve in a completely different yet viable direction. But the mood turned from sweet to sour (and downright down) come the much more thick fisted "Haunted" and the overbearing "In a Dark Place." These menacing selections were intimidating at first, but unfolded to such extreme degrees of unrelenting intensity that the arrangements became an incessant blur of boring abrasive noise.
All the while the audience appeared to know exactly what was going on and proved to be the hardcore types that haven't given up on Numan, even in his decades away from the commercial limelight. He played many of their 90s and 2000s whims and wishes, though still seemed to slight the night by leaving out most of the late 70s and 80s. Unlike Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode or even Duran Duran with mounds of mass appeal through today, Numan is somewhat restricted on the recognizable and could've provided a better balance of the past, possibly contributing either "I Die: You Die," "This Wreckage," "We Are Glass" or "She's Got Claws" while avoiding a complete nostalgia trip. Sure ticket buyers for the winter dates can indulge in those much missed instances, but when it came to this windy city engagement, it was simply short changed.
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