By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the pioneering figures in synth-powered rock in the late ’70s, British musician Gary Numan exerted an enormous influence on new wave, electro-pop, and industrial music with his icy, futuristic keyboard-driven sound. While his original band Tubeway Army offered an edgy mix of distorted guitars and pulsing synthesizers indebted to punk precursors the Sex Pistols and the Damned on its 1978 debut, Numan would embrace electronics on the group’s breakthrough album, Replicas.
Exploring a loose concept revolving around androids (referred to as “machmen” in Numan’s dystopian vision) on the songs “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Down in the Park,” the 1979 album echoed science fiction author Phillip K. Dick’s important novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and predated Ridley Scott’s landmark film version of the story Bladerunner by three years. Numan subsequent solo effort The Pleasure Principle released only six months later further distanced the artist from his earlier sound, ditching the guitar for synths altogether and offering up the massive international hit “Cars.”
While huge sales and lavish live spectacles maintained Numan’s stardom in the UK well into the ’80s, later forays into electro-funk and dance wouldn’t find the same international success. After years adrift, Numan reinvented himself in the ’90s by delving into the grinding guitars and heavier beats of industrial music while lyrically focusing on more personal themes starting with 1994’s Sacrifice.
Since then, Numan has enjoyed a career renaissance. His influence has been celebrated by disciples like the Foo Fighters, Prince and Trent Reznor, and his classic songs have been sampled by the likes of J. Dilla, GZA, Basement Jaxx, and Armand Van Helden. Though some tours would look back at his rich history and celebrate his landmark past efforts, Numan has continued to create new material. On his current tour, Numan is mixing his early hit tracks with songs from his new industrial-rock concept album — the politically charged Savage (Songs from a Broken World).
Set in a post-apocalyptic near future where humans are struggling to survive on a desert world in the throes of cataclysmic climate change, the album sonically and lyrically explores the blending of Eastern and Western cultures. For this show at the Fillmore in San Francisco Sunday night, Numan and his band will be joined by NYC indie-rock duo Me Not Me and Los Angeles-based shoegazers Nightmare Air.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m. $30