tue 15/10/2019

Gary Numan, Assembly Hall, Worthing review - hot and hammering | reviews, news & interviews

Gary Numan, Assembly Hall, Worthing review - hot and hammering

Gary Numan, Assembly Hall, Worthing review - hot and hammering

One of the Eighties' perennial survivors hits the south coast hard and loud

The cactus years

Arriving back onstage for an encore a broadly smiling Gary Numan bathes in roared football chants of “Numan! Numan!”. He tells us it’s just over 40 years since he released his first single, “That’s Too Bad”, but that he and his tight four-piece band are going to make a “bad attempt” at playing it. He’s wrong. It’s one of the best-delivered songs of the night, sounding Seventies punky to the delight of the crowd, many of whom clearly recall the era. It’s not a song he usually plays and not typical of his set, but it has a freshness.

Numan’s career has had five main phases: 1. His punk beginnings (from whence “That’s Too Bad” derives). 2 His ground-breaking albums of electro-pop. 3. His initially smart but eventually naff Eighties alt-funk explorations. 4. His directionless lost years. 5. His reinvention as a bleakly gothic rocker. The latter phase has been by far the longest – the last 20 years – so it’s no surprise the concert draws mainly from it. He is one of the only artists among his peers not obliged to play mostly songs from decades ago. His fanbase are ever-willing to follow him.

These are the initial gigs for a huge US/European tour, a warm-up, a test-out for this set

Happily, while I can’t get along with a lot of this Nine Inch Nails-style stuff, his most recent album, the dystopian Savage (Songs from a Broken World), is his best in ages, less dirgey than a number of its predecessors, and tonight’s set revels in four of its songs, most especially “When the World Comes Apart” and the catchy, almost hammily gloomy, “My Name Is Ruin”. For the latter he brings on his 12-year-old daughter, Persia, who delivers the song’s muezzin-style wailing with shy panache.

Savage is themed loosely around the desert and Numan is clad in a ragged sacking kameez, vaguely similar to the outfit pictured above. His band have similar touches to their attire. Numan is given to dervish dancing too, strobing about amidst the traversing columns of yellow and orange spotlights, his mop of hair strangely fascinating, like a glossy black anemone perched on his head. The temperature tonight is desert hot too, and guitarist Steve Harris drips and glistens with perspiration, yet his Hari Krishna-style forehead tilaka somehow doesn’t sweat away.

Relatively small venues in Holmfirth (Yorkshire), Basingstoke and Worthing are not where we expect to see Gary Numan. However, that’s where he’s playing this week. These are the initial gigs for a huge US/European tour, a warm-up, a test-out for this set. When he returns in the autumn he’ll be hitting the cities; the Albert Hall and similar. Catching him here, then, is unexpected and incongruous. The last gig I saw here was the organist from the Blackpool Tower Ballroom playing the building’s famous Wurlitzer on a genial Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately the venue’s sound is not ideal for Numan’s industrial rock assault (nor is the badly managed bar ready for a proper rock concert). His vocals are initially lost in a muddy mix and only towards the end do things become clearer. If I had a criticism it would be that there’s seldom a change of mood, almost every song arriving on an abrasive minor key synth crunch and a stentorian metal riff, even old Eighties electronic classics such as “Me, I Disconnect From You” and “Metal”. The only exception is a throbbing, melancholy version of one of his greatest songs, the glacial sci-fi “Down in the Park”.

However, everyone here knows this is how contemporary Gary Numan concerts roll. If you’re going to moan that he’s battering his sleek android sound of the Eighties, then you shouldn’t be here. It would be like going to Download Festival and complaining that the whole place is rife with heavy guitar riffs. The night is a success and the frontman is clearly enjoying himself, big grins constantly emerging from a man whose face in repose is famously sullen. He ends, as he often does, with “Are 'Friends' Electric?”, its rising keyboard motif transformed into another terrace chant. And then both band and audience leave quickly, before we all melt in the tropical heat.

Below: watch the video for "My Name is Ruin" by Gary Numan

He brings on his 12-year-old daughter, Persia, who delivers the song’s muezzin-style wailing with shy panache


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.