Move over, nostalgia. When a band brings its personal best to the stage, there’s only room for respect.
Friday night at Atlanta’s Philips Arena, Duran Duran proved to be a fit competitor in the current concert climate. All the elements were in place: a sophisticated sound and light presentation, an airtight setlist which bridged old and new material, energetic players and a venue filled with passionate fans who never stopped dancing in the aisles during the 115-minute set.
We reviewers would be remiss to simply toss out a string of adjective-laden sentences extolling the virtues of a band who performed hits to a crowd already sold on its style. That’s the easy way out, and Duran Duran has never backed down in its 38-year career.
The British band who first found success in the early 1980s with New Romantic songs that mixed groove and glam is still challenging its audience in 2016. Only now, instead of merely breaking ground with the synthesizer technology it helped popularize decades ago, Duran Duran has chosen to refine and enhance its classic formula with even more danceable beats and memorable melodies … ingredients which bring thousands of ticket buyers to an arena to hear a catchy recent single (“Pressure Off”), an EDM anthem (“Last Night in the City”) and a statement-piece title track (“Paper Gods”) alongside favorites such as “Planet Earth” and “Save a Prayer.” The night also comprised a David Bowie tribute, a James Bond theme, the pliant voices of sequined backup singers with serious moves and a nonstop rhythm section.
The Paper Gods tour — which snakes through the USA and Europe this spring and summer — supports Duran Duran’s fourteenth studio album of the same name, a surprise bestseller which landed on the Top 10 Billboard charts last fall. The outing pairs the headliner with an opener who was one of its biggest early influences, guitarist/producer Nile Rodgers and his band, Chic. The bodies of work of these two acts, when presented together, creates a seamless forty-year continuum of the evolution of disco, punk, rock and pop across the careers of artists who have sold more than 100 million records combined. This three-hour concert event is not only an educational investment for any music lover, it is an historic love fest that instills elation and breathless boogie-ing in its participants, including both the performers and the patrons. From the opening bars of Chic’s “Everybody Dance” to the extended mashup of “Good Times” and “Rapper’s Delight,” the rhythmic duet between Rodgers and Duran Duran in “Notorious” and the final saxophone sendoff of “Rio” during the band’s encore, it is impossible to hear this music and not have a blast.
Any critic who feels he has to find something wrong with a performance in order to avoid fawning is perhaps too self-absorbed to admit the truth: pop perfection should not always be sought in the playing or programming, but rather in the feels. One needn’t be a fan of Duran Duran in order to vibe on John Taylor’s bass lines — and, on this night especially, during “I Don’t Want Your Love” (which provided an unexpected funk jolt); keyboardist Nick Rhodes masterminded every interesting sonic flourish from his perch; the fans went berserk anytime drummer Roger Taylor’s sticks hammered a fill; and my running crib sheet of Simon Le Bon’s vocal abilities garnered a check mark beside almost all the tricky high notes, including those in “A View to a Kill,” “Ordinary World” and “Girls on Film.” The sweetness of his tone was more meaningful than voice acrobatics, however. (He’s one rock star whose singing has consistently grown better every year.) In an age where many entertainers get lost in the performance aspects of traversing mega stages and memorizing choreography, Duran Duran has no agenda; the guys jump and shimmy with boyish spontaneity. The enthusiasm this band brings is legit.
No longer fettered by comparisons to other charting acts, Duran Duran is now freely embracing its DNA in a way that few bands exist long enough – or have the guts – to do. Whether or not the Paper Gods tour makes this year’s best-of lists in music industry publications doesn’t really matter, although this show is certainly worthy. There’s something innately satisfying about watching a band achieve its personal best, both in recording and performance. Chasing relevance rarely yields relevance; Duran Duran is relevant because it’s no longer on the chase. Instead, these guys are looking inward where the real greatness lies. Being the best band that you can be — the band you were born to be– is a nobler pursuit than trendiness and one that has finally paid off for Duran Duran in the best possible way.
Courtesy Kristi York Wooten (Click for photos)