Who would have thought that the band that defined ’80s New Wave – Duran Duran – would still be playing stadiums decades later? Actually, at the time, we all did: they were huge and cool and good-looking and made for video. We thought they were the pinnacle of pop. Every generation thinks it finds the music and fashion that will be the ones to last, and Duran Duran were huge enough to convince us that they were it.
Image from Jayne Hendry via Creative Commons license.
Duran Duran – They were, and they weren’t.
Backing up for moment, though, I’d like to reflect on the support act, The Duke Spirit. They filled in at the last minute when The Long Blondes’ guitarist fell ill. The Dukes are my favourite rock band at the moment and I’ve seen them a few times in the last year. We got to the O2 early enough to catch most of their set – which rocked, as usual – but it’s hard to play to a dark, half-empty 20,000-person stadium. Singer Leila Moss made a wry observation about how when they were starting out she would direct her mum to find their CDs in shops by telling her to look just in front of Duran Duran. And there The Duke Spirit was, last night: just in front of Duran Duran.
A little later Duran Duran came out, spotlight nostalgia and fashion. It’s true that I’ve not been a big fan of the band since about 1986. I was at Live Earth last year and saw them do a few songs there. However, I am a big fan of my wife, and so there I was last night. They dressed in matching trash-art suits which worked in a pop sense, but which were also distractingly lame. It quickly became clear that the band weren’t keen on taking things too seriously anyway: they were, as Simon Le Bon himself put it, “the band designed to make you party”.
So, yes, they played several songs from new album Red Carpet Massacre. The good news is that that album is slightly better than all the dreck the band has produced (and produced steadily) since the mid-’80s. Most of the new content was clustered in an initial burst of three songs, and in an electro set of 3 or 4 songs that the four original members played at consoles at the front of the stage (following a suit change, natch). The Timbaland production forMassacre made for some catchy moments but ultimately these songs are average. No one knew them, either.
Most of the old stuff went down a storm: “Planet Earth” and “Save a Prayer” were fun. They did both of my favourites, “Wild Boys” and the excellent Bond song “View To A Kill”. “The Reflex” was a huge adrenalin jolt for the whole crowd. The band sounded like it still had fun performing these songs. A couple, however – notably “Hungry Like the Wolf” and encore “Rio” – sounded like they really were getting a bit tired of playing them. They fit in all the intervening chart-botherers, too: we heard “Come Undone”, “Notorious”, “Ordinary World”, “Skin Trade”, and “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise”.
There were a few interesting moments to mix things up. During their elctro-beat middle segment they segued through The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” (which completely confounded the crowd). New track “Falling Down” was sarcastically dedicated to new London mayor “Boris Johnson and his good intentions”. During the encore bassist John Taylor (easily the squealing crowd’s favourite) sported a Barack Obama T-shirt. An extended “Girls on Film” was full of energy and contained a bit of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (one of my favourite songs ever).
Duran Duran wrote some great songs two and a half decades ago. They can still play those well today, and wisely regard themselves these days as a big, pretty-looking party band. Simon sings better than I thought he might now be able to (though his dancing seems to have become worse). It was a good night of light, danceable entertainment.