Five Lessons Learned From Seeing Duran Duran Live for the First Time
Getty Images for American Express
Read Lina Lecaro's review, "The Night a Duran Duran Show Got the David Lynch Treatment in LA."
Wednesday night, American Express' Unstaged series brought together Duran Duran and David Lynch for an unusual live experience. As the band played on The Mayan stage, Lynch worked behind the scenes directing the webcast, which at-home viewers could watch on YouTube. Inside the theater, I couldn't witness Lynch's magic, but I did have a pretty great view of Duran Duran.
Last night, marked the first time I saw Duran Duran live. The thing that is unusual about finally seeing a band that you've loved for the bulk of your life is that it can open you up for disappointment. The show might be good, but, sometimes, it's hard not to feel some pang of regret that you didn't see the band back in its prime. That was not the case with Duran Duran. I left the show feeling optimistic, as though I had not just seen a good show, but learned a few things in the process.
It would be incredibly easy for Duran Duran to parlay their association with '80s pop culture into one big nostalgia-fest. Thank goodness they didn't do that.
For their latest album, All You Need Is Now, the band worked with young, hip producer Mark Ronson. Not only did Ronson join Duran Duran on stage for several numbers, but the show featured a several guest performers that helped bring even the older material into the '10s. Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance joined Le Bon on vocals for "Planet Earth," while Gossip's Beth Ditto did the same for "Notorious." Later on, Kelis joined in on "The Man Who Stole a Leopard" (she appears on the same track on the band's latest album) and "Come Undone."
Lesson 2: The older songs aren't necessarily the better songs.
In the midst of a random conversation at Comic-Con last year, a fellow music geek espoused the virtues of Duran Duran's recent releases to me. It wasn't until I started listening to tracks from All You Need Is Now, that I realized that he was right. Listen to "The Man Who Stole a Leopard" (David Lynch's current favorite from the band, read more in "David Lynch on His Live Collaboration with Duran Duran, Plus the Director's Favorite Duran Duran Song"). It stands up to anything off Rio. It was also one of the highlights of the show, more intriguing than even some of the more familiar tunes.
When going to see a band with a hefty discography, there's a tendency for people to want the band to focus on the older hits. With Duran Duran, though, the new material is a treat. Part of this is probably because the band hasn't strayed that far from their roots. They're still all about tight grooves, huge synths and soaring vocals. At the same time, though, none of the tracks off All You Need Is Now sound like they were caught in a 1982 time warp. Duran Duran found a nice balance. They know what works for them and what sounds their fans like, and they somehow manage to stick with that while still moving forward.
Lesson 3: People go crazy for John Taylor.
Last weekend, I had picked up a recent copy of the Japanese street fashion magazine FRUiTS. In it, there was a young woman wearing a massive button with a photo of John Taylor on it. The photo dated back to the '80s, when the bassist for Duran Duran was a new wave heartthrob.
Wednesday night at The Mayan, it was as though not much had changed since that photo of him had been taken. Taylor might perform in a polo shirt and sneakers now, but he still has killer cheekbones and great hair. When the band members were introduced at the end of the show, Taylor was the recipient of the wildest screams. There's more to the musician than that, though. Check out this tweet from late last night:
It was true enough to retweet. John Taylor is an extremely talented, and underrated, bassist. Seeing them play live, it becomes obvious how far his bass drives those songs and that this, more than nostalgia, just might be the reason you heard Duran Duran's classics at nightclubs decades after they were recorded.
Lesson 4: Nick Rhodes is still cool.
Getty Images for American Express Simon Le Bon with Gerard Way performing "Planet Earth"
There was always something impossibly cool about Nick Rhodes. Maybe it was the synths or the ever-changing hair. Regardless, on stage last night, he maintained that seemingly unattainable, enigmatic quality.
Rhodes had an effortless way of working through some of the most easily recognizable synth lines in pop culture. He looked as though he didn't even work up a sweat while standing behind mountains of gear while dressed in a dapper black suit with a glittering lapel. Every now and again, he would pull out a small camera and start snapping photos from the stage. We can only hope that the band will post those soon.
Lesson 5: Even if the band doesn't play your song, you won't be disappointed.
My favorite Duran Duran song is "The Chauffeur." Last night, I thought they might play it. They didn't. Despite that, it was difficult to feel even the slightest bit of disappointment. Duran Duran delivers so much more than just a favorite song. From working with Gerard Way on last night's rendition of "Planet Earth" to transforming "A View to a Kill" into an orchestral tribute to the best of the James Bond series to the rousing finale of "Girls on Film," Duran Duran delivered a set that fans have been discussing on Twitter all night.
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