1. Riding up the escalator to the Hard Rock Cafe’s third-floor venue, I wonder how U.K. synth-pop pioneer Gary Numan, who penned his biggest hits in the late ’70s and early ’80s, would draw in 2014 for his first-ever Vegas concert. Turns out, not badly at all. Though the 1,200-capacity room is hardly packed, the showing feels quite respectable, with the floor full enough to send some good energy back at Numan and his four-piece band. Kudos to Hard Rock Live’s bookers for continuing to bring in important veteran acts (Dick Dale, Adam Ant, Os Mutantes) who might not be household names for the average listener.
2. Numan’s music these days strays closer to the dark, dense electronic-rock slabs of Nine Inch Nails than the icy, robotic sound of his own early material. That’s no huge surprise, considering Numan has become closely associated with Trent Reznor & Co. over the years—Nine Inch Nails has covered one of his songs (“Metal”), and he has toured as an opening act for the band. It’s interesting to hear the way he has, seemingly, become influenced by one of the many acts he influenced originally.
3. “Metal” and “Films,” off Numan’s solo debut, 1979’s The Pleasure Principal, provide early-set highlights, and the shadowy “Here in the Dark” and “The Calling” prescribe further listening to 2013 album Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind). But the set’s most memorable moment comes midway, when Numan launches into the panoramic, keyboard-powered “Down in the Park,” a single from his early post-punk band, Tubeway Army. The singer then wisely capitalizes on that momentum, skipping a newer song on his setlist and proceeding directly into 1979’s “Cars,” the one song played tonight that surely everyone in attendance knows by heart (“Here in my car/I Feel safest of all/I Can lock all my doors/It’s the only way to live/In Cars”).
4. The back half of the main set comes off a bit samey, with Numan and his band ending with six straight post-2000 songs, all with a similarly heavy vibe. Focus begins to fade, and a fair number of bodies move toward the exit … which means they miss out on Numan’s impromptu birthday celebration just after midnight, when the headliner turns 56.
5. Those who leave early also aren’t around for “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” the second of three encore numbers. Thirty-five years after its release, the Tubeway Army track still sounds futuristic and fantastical, speaking of a world where robots serve as human stand-ins. Which makes me wonder: How do we know that’s really Gary Numan onstage … ?