Right then, I’m utterly confused. This evening I saw Gary Numan (Are Friends in Electric Cars) at the Dome, and well … it got me thinking about the lines which could be crossed when it comes to live performance. I’m still not sure whether Gary crossed them or simply stamped all over them.
Firstly, let me just say that he gives damn good show, striking poses from the rock handbook as if he was born to the role (and has watched a fair few Who gigs), on a stage set heavy on the lights and smoke. His music is an interesting melange of industrial metal and avant-garde electronica, heavily sequenced and synced in with a projection screen showing all manner of tricksy imagery … some interesting, some simply tricksy. His band were reasonable, the sound suitably large, the audience suitably impressed.
There was only one problem … the vocals. The first few bits of singing were an unexpected baritone, somewhat lacking in volume and, well, intonation. Then, as if by magic, those high vocals we expect from the man appeared, remarkably on the money, and sounding a little effected. Then I noticed that when these big chorus vocals happened, so did the great stage moves, and simultaneously the mic seemed to move a good few inches more away from the mouth. Now, I know about mic technique. This was something else … stage technique. The mic volume and sound in the ‘normal’ vocals was erratic, to say the least. Then it dawned on me. He was bloody miming. This was confirmed when in one chorus he routinely stopped singing … and the chorus added another line … I was amazed. Then I realised it was obvious. I asked another concert-goer. He said he thought something was funny. Then another questioned confirmed my suspicions. We discussed it for a bit, and it turned out he thought it was ok. ‘He’s 54’, and ‘there’s only one Gary Numan’ were two of his excuses.
So. the question is quite simple. Is this behaviour simply trampling over the fine line between acceptable and simply cheating, or is it inevitable in this day and age. Patti Smith recently remarked that when she couldn’t perform to her standards, she’d quit. I’ve switched batting stances in an attempt to prolong my cricketing ‘career’, but it strikes me that what Gary Numan is doing is simply disingenuous. He’s making like he’s forming these great choruses but, well, he ain’t. He may have done so once, but no more.
What say you? Cheat or the inevitable consequence of the modern consumer’s a) insistence on perfection and b) their fundamental inability to comprehend what it is.
Or, are cloth-eared twats forcing good musicians to lie, and if so, are they culpable?