Hey, look, we're in Birmingham! Matthew assures me that this is about as exciting as being in.... well, Delaware. Or maybe Winnipeg. But, aside from the crowds on the streets, I quite enjoy it. After arriving at the Grand Hotel (regular room rate is £110 per night for a twin) and checking in, we take a "short walk" that turns into about two hours. We sample the local culinary delights (Burger King) and we browse through something called "Oasis", which seems to be several shops rolled into one. They sell some SCARY things here... including some rather interesting fetish-ware. Matthew's looking for some banana boots like Gary wears on stage - he does find them but not in his size.
We walk over to the venue - it's about 3 city blocks from the hotel. The Birmingham Town Hall was the first venue I saw to actually bother with a SIGN out front advertising the concert. In addition to that, there were people out front handing out leaflets, exhorting everyone at the show to head over to XL's night club after the show where they'll be playing some Numan tunes and featuring a personal appearance by Gary himself.
The Birmingham Town Hall is an impressive looking building
inside, featuring some absolutely stunning old-English
architecture. Unfortunately, it's also somewhat smallish,
forcing Gary's stage set to be a bit reduced... the three pillars
on each side of the set were removed, as were the centre steps.
Even after this, Gary had to be careful he didn't fall off the
bloody stage, things were that cramped. Seating arrangements
were a bit odd - on the floor was temporary seating (abandoned
shortly after Gary took to the stage) with a large upper balcony
as well. A number of the floor-area seats were underneath
overhanging balcony, cutting off the view and making photography
(snap, snap, grin, grin, nudge, nudge, say no more) virtually
impossible from most areas where a photographer could actually
get to. However, I did manage to get some good shots as despite
all this, our seats were relatively good, in the sixth row off
to the left of the stage.
Despite these problems, the show was a smashing success. The energy level of the crowd was as high as I've seen, and the performance came off extremely well despite the limited space in which to play. I began to notice that the crowd was reacting very positively to the new material which, presumably, most of them had never yet heard. "An Alien Cure" was particularly well received - after the initial getting-used-to-it period the crowd began dancing nearly as much as they did for "Cars", which again was a big hit.
What was most notable about this performance was that Gary and the band seemed to be in a rather mischievous spirit, perhaps finally settling into a "comfort zone". Remember, there are two new band members here and this was all new to them. Tonight, however, there was much smiling and grinning and laughing amongst all on stage, particularly between Gary and Rob Harris (guitarist, who shares the lower stage with Gary throughout the performance). When they came back for the first performance, Gary even acknowledged the crowd's virtually non-stop requests for "Jo The Waiter" - unfortunately it wasn't in the set list, and it was rather late in the day for the new band members to learn it now. Instead, there followed very energetic renditions of "Love And Napalm" and "We Are Glass", and of course "Remind Me To Smile".
After the show, we of course all headed over to XL's. While generally a good time was had by all, things were a bit ugly when Gary and company arrived. The DJ didn't help things along by announcing it every time Gary went to the toilet, and thus he was perpetually mobbed. This was eventually settled by cordoning off an area for Gary and the band, and public access was blocked by a particularly beefy security guard.
There were, however, some definite highlights to this evening. For me personally, it was bumping into Richard Beasley, who introduced himself to me, asked if I was "the bloke from Canada", and within 2 minutes had bought me a beer (a Carling Premier Lager of course). He couldn't chat for long but promised to chat more later (which of course he did). As I've already said, everybody associated with Gary is friendly and personable and this was just another example of the "just folks" mentality that reigns. It is, I'd say, the absolute coolest aspect of my entire visit.
In addition to this, our friend Jason Smith (the Numan lookalike) was particularly well received. The doorman at the club waved us right through - he though Jason *WAS* Gary. This happened at least six other times throughout the night, notably as the final song was playing. Jason's on the dance floor, dancing to "Bleed", and pulling out all the stops - posing, pouting, and dancing. Added to this is me - I'm moving around snapping photos with Kirsten's camera. This immediately leads one couple to jump to the wrong conclusion and they start asking me "what's he like?" - and I, being far too drunk by this time, take a little while to realize that they think he's Gary. Oh well - what they don't know won't hurt 'em and they're happier this way. :-)