Gary Numan, Dome, Brighton
Paloma Faith, Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
Once alienated from much of the music scene by his Asperger's syndrome, Gary Numan is bringing himself back in from the cold
Sunday 22 November 2009
Sigmund Freud's term for the unmoderated pursuit of gratification which characterises the id during childhood was always a peculiar title for a Gary Numan album. The Pleasure Principle didn't fit the mood of the record, and it certainly didn't fit the image of the man who was locked out from – or locked himself out from – the hedonistic Like Punk Never Happened party of early 1980s pop.
Two decades later, Numan would self-diagnose as Aspergic, and retrospectively make sense of his whole life. In 1979, two years before anyone in the English-speaking world had even heard of the syndrome, it was difficult to pin down exactly why Numan's work felt so unsettling. And, to many, so powerful.
Anyone who has ever experienced alienation or felt a stark disconnect from the rest of humanity can find resonances in The Pleasure Principle (the record he's performing in full on his current tour) or, indeed, Replicas, released earlier the same year. Whereas The Smiths were all about self-consciously flaunting one's insecurities, Gary Numan couldn't help but externalise his.
This lack of guile is exactly why Gary Numan gave me one of the best interviews of my career, for the Rebellious Jukebox section of Melody Maker magazine, in which he revealed more than any more cool-conscious individual would, about being snubbed by his heroes and generally making a fool of himself. It's out there online, currently hosted on The Quietus website, and I urge you to look for it.
It's also why he was left out in the cold for so long, releasing rarely heard records on his own Numa label to a devoted but unfashionable army of Numanoids while his pop peers went superstellar and bought yachts. The brash capitalist confidence of the late 1980s could never accommodate something as awkward as mental disorder.
And that's where he stayed for an epoch, until – without really trying – Numan made a slow return to relevance. It started with Random, the mid-1990s tribute album and continued with Basement Jaxx sampling his "M.E." on "Where's Your Head". But it was Richard X, with the Tubeway Army/Adina Howard mash-up which he mutated into a chart-topping single with Sugababes' "Freak Like Me", who really brought Numan in from the cold. This year, he's hipper than ever, with The Mighty Boosh inviting him to headline their festival.
In the meantime, however, unlike most other 1980s survivors, Gary Numan – these days looking a lot healthier than the awkward youth he was – has refused to re-enact his past, which is to be applauded, even if the stylistic direction in which he moved, medium-heavy gothic-industrial rock, might have alienated fairweather fans (a few of the hardcore, too).
In the past couple of years, though, he's relented and given people what they want, touring Replicas, Telekon and now The Pleasure Principle. There may be a few purists who complain that the original Moogs aren't being used, but Numan's band use modern synths to emulate the sound of the record to near perfection. Well, apart from a stuttering first-night attempt at "Conversation", after which he admits, "That was a bit rubbish, actually."
The most chilling moment comes with "Asylum", the horror-movie instrumental from the B-side of "Cars". The most moving comes with the stately grandeur of "Complex", a song which Numan didn't play live for years, maybe because it's too close to the bone: "Please, keep them away/Don't let them touch me/Please, don't let them lie/Don't let them see me ..." Tonight it's dedicated to former bandmate Paul Gardiner, who died of a heroin overdose in 1984.
Next, Numan's band push the synths aside for a career-spanning encore including "Down in the Park" and a partially piano-led "Are 'Friends' Electric", and indulge the present tense with 2003's "Jagged" and the new "Pure". It's nothing but a pleasure.
"I think I'm a little bit in love with Paloma Faith." That's how Noel Fielding, on a recent Never Mind the Buzz- cocks, reacted to a few minutes' exposure to the eccentric charm of the 24-year-old from Hackney.
Björk-style theatricality comes naturally to this former burlesque performer and magician's assistant. She struts out in a big white dress doing a fan dance, scales the speakers, kicks her legs above head height, serenades a male model, and drizzles pinky-red powder all over her outfit. And that's all within the first three songs.
The songs themselves are sometimes flawed, and that dread word "kooky" comes to mind a little too often, but mainly she keeps it in check. She's at her best when telling tales of being attracted to dangerous men who break her heart ("New York"). The ballad "Broken Doll" might be a song of all-time importance.
One guy at the back is overcome with emotion and shouts a quavering "I love you!" Carry on like this, and it won't be long before the whole of the UK is at least a little bit in love with Paloma Faith.
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