The historic Los Angeles Theater has been the chosen venue for goth and darkwave festivals like Cloak and Dagger for several years, and it’s easy to see why. The lavish interior complete with chandeliers, baroque embellishments and a grand staircase transports anyone who enters the Theater to 1931 where Charlie Chaplin is in his heyday and Prohibition was still in its prime. Theaters like these represented the over-the-top nature of what it was like to live richly in the ’20s and ’30s, and when a festival like Substance fest comes through, the theater is transformed into a gothic, smokey palace of darkness.
Friday night was the shorter lineup of the two days, featuring performances from Kanga, Xeno & Oaklander, Adult. and of course, Gary Numan. Attendees either blended into a sea of black outerwear or stood out in gothic Halloween costumes. Entering the theater where all the performances took place that night was like walking into an industrial warehouse complete with fog and flashing lights.
Gary Numan stole the show, closing the night with an hour-and-a-half-long set that blasted everyone’s eardrums and got them dancing at the same time. Warm orange flashing lights and fog with deep eerie synths set the stage for the band, who took the stage in all-black outfits. They started right away with the catchy “My Name is Ruin,” which featured low gritty synth blasts and flashing lights. Numan’s voice soared effortlessly over the heavy sounds, proving to everyone that he is, in fact, a huge ’80s pop star for good reason. Numan wasn’t much for words that night, but he sure did put on a show. He danced along to the music whether he was singing or not, thrusting his head violently and staring intensely into the crowd with his piercing blue eyes. Speaking of intense, the guitar player was downright scary to look at times, as he fixated on one person at a time and often gestured into the crowd. While most of the set stuck with their new industrial, NIN-inspired sound, popular ’80s hits like “Cars” had the crowd singing and dancing along. “Are Friends Electric” had the same effect but came across a lot heavier than the original recording as they took the opportunity to fill the massive theater with as much heaviness and blaring sound as possible.
The band came out again for an encore, and Numan was smiling from ear-to-ear at the crowd. “It Will End Here” closed the night on a heavy but uplifting note. While the theater was filled, it was easy to get a close look at the band if you didn’t mind the sound blasting in your ears. This made their performance feel really intimate and special.
Detroit’s ADULT. took the stage just before Numan, and the privilege was not lost upon them as singer Nicola Kuperus shared her excitement of seeing them perform just after. Their set was full of heavy industrial goth-punk sounds that turned up the intensity even more with flashing lights and ethereal, often screeching vocals. The audience danced to trance-inducing songs and strobe lights.
Duo Xeno & Oaklander performed an ethereal set with plenty of smoke and blue light. Instrumentalist Sean McBride pushed buttons and pulled plugs on a small modular synth, adding a level of excitement to their set. Singer Liz Wendelbo addressed the crowd with a “Bonsoir” and sang in French for several songs, her ethereal voice drifting along with the synths.
Kanga opened the night with a dance-worthy set that had all eyes on her.
Day two of Substance will skew on the post-punk side with John Maus headlining and bands like Black Marble, A Place to Bury Strangers and more taking over the Los Angeles Theater.
Gary Numan Setlist:
My Name Is Ruin
Dead Sun Rising
Down in the Park
Here in the Black
Love Hurt Bleed
A Prayer for the Unborn
Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
It Will End Here
File Photo Credit Raymond Flotat