Gary Numan fans from way back likely never expected to see him from a spitting distance.
The closeness was just one of the strange things about his Altar Bar show, as the British New Wave pioneer always seemed like an artist to be appreciated from afar.
This was a “space oddity,” if you will, to go with the fact that Numan hasn’t remained stuck in 1980. He’s also inched into the ’90s with a grinding industrial sound that he’s snatched back, in a way, from Trent Reznor.
His Altar Bar set was heavy on the latter, reflecting the dark shadows of his last few albums, including last fall’s “Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind).” Banish the thought of this being a Nine Inch Nails knockoff, as Numan not only has the vision and melodic sense to take on Reznor, he has better pipes.
While Numan’s Tubeway Army was a keyboard outfit, this band had jagged noise guitarist Steve Harris prominently at his side, with Numan (in a wig, presumably, that made him look like Billie Joe Armstrong) also strapping on a guitar at points. Far from robotic, he flashed punk intensity, whipping himself around the stage, while other times dancing rapturously with his arms over his head.
They played eight of the 12 songs from the new album — from the driving “I Am Dust” and “Love Hurt Bleed” to the dirge-like “Lost.” “Splinter” and “Everything Comes Down This” were the perfect intersection of his styles, with the undercurrent of noise meeting spacey keyboards and soaring choruses.
If you came for vintage Numan, this was a lot of sledgehammer, interrupted by a smattering of old songs that rained down like comfort music by comparison. A sheer moment of bliss was the “Replicas” sci-fi classic “Down in the Park” with its pretty piano line and orchestral synths threatening to bury his nasal robot vocal.
The synth-funk of “Cars,” his signature song, felt like a outdated model in the middle of the set, but there’s no getting around playing it.
More cosmic was “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” one of three encores, played with fury and fists flying in the air.
Gary Numan sightings have been rare in Pittsburgh, making this one, in a converted church, all the more magical. It’s good to see the robot so ... lifelike.
I Am Dust
Everything Comes Down to This
Here in the Black
Down in the Park
We're the Unforgiven
Love Hurt Bleed
A Prayer for the Unborn
I Die: You Die
Are 'Friends' Electric?
My Last Day