The Joy Circuit

May 15, 2016

 Gary Numan performing in Manchester, 2011. Author: Man Alive!

One of the benefits of living in New York City-a place which often feels like it was expressly designed to discourage your presence-is the seemingly endless opportunities to see amazing, live music acts. Just within the past decade I’ve had the chance to watch the New York Festival Orchestra perform a remarkable tribute to the victims of the 2011 Japanese earthquake, meet the Bangles at the Highline Ballroom, see a remarkable chamber orchestra at Lincoln Center, and attend concerts by groups and individual artists like Hello Seahorse, They Might Be Giants, Dramarama, Stevie Wonder, Los Lobos, Big Daddy Kane, Bad Religion, Beth Orton, and the Kronos Quartet. And, had I been able to, I would have seen the Pixies. All of these musicians-with a single exception-I watched perform without paying a cent.

Last night afforded me a similar opportunity, this time to watch ’80s icon Gary Numan perform Telekon in its entirety at Gramercy Theatre. Although his first two nights received mixed reviews, with the exception of one major cockup towards the end of his set the performance I took in was largely flawless from a technical standpoint. One of my takeaways from the concert was the extent to which it was an exhibition of technical prowess, which probably shouldn’t have been surprising coming from one of the pioneers of synth pop. His virtuosic employment of sound was something that I haven’t encountered among rock performers in my experience, and can only be compared to some classical musicians I’ve seen.

The use of lights, particularly their synchronization with his music, definitely enhanced the atmospherics of the evening. Even something as seemingly trivial as the merch booth highlight the importance of aesthetics to Gary Numan. From the t-shirts, to the tote bags, to the cover art of his vinyl records, the stylistic precision and uniqueness was striking. Not that these details are inconsequential to other musicians, but they seemed to be a reflection of his priorities as an artist. Not having any familiarity with his work-with the exception of his most famous single-this concert was an illuminating experience in many ways, but the visual nature of his peformance was something that stood out for me.

That said, I can’t honestly declare myself converted to Numan fandom. Or, as I call it, Numandom. Like Prince, I have an appreciation for his immense musical talent, skill, and workmanship, but for me music is an emotive, not intellectual, experience. It moves you on a gut level, providing catharsis of some kind. I never experienced that feeling over the course of my 2 hours at the Gramercy Theatre, even as I  developed a deeper appreciation for an artist whom I’d had only the vaguest impression of before this week.  For what it’s worth, one of my favorite artists-whose music probably moves me more than any other-is Joe Jackson, so I don’t think my reaction is born of a generational divide or a categorical hatred of ’80s/new wave. So in the final analysis, I have to give Gary Numan and his backing band credit for being extremely good musicians, who have inspired countless fans both here and throughout the globe.

Music is a universal language, but there are millions of dialects, most of which we’ll never become fluent in. I think Gary Numan falls under that category, unfortunately.

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