Duran Duran, Brighton Centre, Brighton
Eighties pop superstars prove good value
by Thomas H GreenThursday, 01 December 2011
It catches everyone out that Duran Duran’s version of the hip-hop classic “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” comes off so well. Not just affable entertainment but actually fiercely funky, raising a large section of the Brighton Centre to its feet. Duran’s 2006 covers album Thank You – from which the song comes - was once voted by Q magazine as the worst album ever, but looking around at the enthused reaction, including my own, that all seems rather irrelevant. Midway through their set, Duran Duran are a persuasive force.
The four Durans – Nick Rhodes (keys), Simon Le Bon (vocals), John Taylor (bass) and Roger Taylor (drums) – seem excited and on form. Last time I saw them they were playing to crowds of primarily female office parties at the Olympia a few Christmases ago. The sound was stodgy, the atmosphere lank and the band emanated dutiful slog rather than thrills. Now, assisted in the studio by producer Mark Ronson, they have their most zesty album in a couple of decades in the bag, All You Need is Now, fizzing with the insouciant pop-funk of their most famous Eighties material. It seems to have given them chutzpah and they dip into it extensively. Even when you wish they wouldn’t it’s hard to quibble as it’s also given them performance oomph.
As ever, they look svelte. John Taylor refuses to lose his hair, Le Bon has a stubbly beard and less fat than he had in 1983, and Nick Rhodes is Dorian Gray. The first big old number is “Planet Earth”, an early hit, decisive in their rise. Make no mistake, Duran Duran were utterly massive in their day. They somehow combined Eighties aspiration, all Gordon Gekko slickness, chrome and yachts, into an unlikely gumbo of lipstick, hairspray and preposterous posing that teenage girls found sexually irresistible. They broke America, did a Bond theme and made multimillions, conquering MTV utterly, year after year.
For someone of my generation, teenage in the Eighties, it’s impossible to absorb their music without a reflex (flec-flec-flex) psychological twinge, for they were the wet girly pin-ups of that era, the Bros, Take That, JLS et al. The difference between Duran and those bands is that they weren’t just dancing puppets, they rose from a Bowie-obsessed scene at the Rum Runner Club in Birmingham and they also played their instruments. They were born of post-punk pop-cultural shifts but, while they sometimes looked the part, they weren’t an electropop act in the vein of, say, Depeche Mode. Instead they combined the sounds of Chic and Roxy Music with their own peacock pop sensibility. They were New Romantic - whatever that meant.
Above the stage there are four giant heads, plain white before the gig, but filled with projections of their singing faces, oddly warped, during a performance of their new album’s title track. The crowd, primarily fans of yore, but a healthy mix of male and female, seem ripe for everything. Nick Rhodes, Duran’s permanent mainstay, makes his only remark of the gig early, something about not being a Luddite. There’s no time to consider this matter before “The Reflex” hits and every female in the place is jumping – and quite a few men, too. This is swiftly followed by “The Man Who Stole a Leopard”, based on the allegedly true saga of a New Jersey man arrested for keeping a leopard in his apartment. Much to my surprise it’s one of my favourite songs of 2011. It’s a ringer for Duran’s icy early classic "The Chauffeur”, but not to the extent that you can’t enjoy it for what it is.
Duran now apparently have an obsession with tweeting which I’m not so sure about. Fan tweets roll across a big screen at points throughout the gig. John Taylor, once the ultimate ladies’ man, announces that he’s a Twitterholic. Is that a cool thing to say or be? Twitter, as gardening and Jamie Oliver have both been, is touted as rock’n’roll in certain quarters but…
At about this point, give or take, Simon Le Bon delivers an unlikely and relatively lengthy aside about the public sector workers’ strike, which was on the day of the gig. Just as I’m thinking, parties not politics for you, Duran, they slip into “Ordinary World”, a contagiously maudlin mope about coming back down to earth with a bump, ostensibly after a love affair but, written in 1993, it sounds more like the elegantly faded pining of a band for their glory years (“What has happened to it all?... Where is the life that I recognise?”). Just in case we take it too seriously, Le Bon and John Taylor camp it up to the max towards its conclusion.
The seated venue is offered an opportunity to let rip with “Notorious”, wherein 1986 Duran worked with Nile Rodgers to grab the Chic spirit. The bearded Le Bon introduces all his players, starting with the backing singers and sax. Afterwards he asks a woman from the audience to introduce him but she’s too overwhelmed or wasted to do so. He turns to her neighbour who screams, “IT’S SIMON FUCKING LE BON!” Their reward is “Wild Boys”, ostensibly based on William Burroughs, but actually a super-Eighties, super-percussive big-hair tune. To emphasise this, Duran fuse it with a version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”. The final song of the night is “Rio”. It had to be and it’s lethal. Back in the day it had weird resonances as an alt-Thatcherite anthem, due mostly to the opulent video, but now it’s simply a massive singalong pop song, and its writers revel in it. After a gig such as this, even those whose gag reflex is set high might have to admit that Duran Duran have a few golden pop nuggets in their back catalogue.
Duran Duran are on tour until 20 December
Courtesy The Arts Desk