with Ima Robot
In Duran Duran’s current single, an introspective Simon LeBon sings, “Nobody knows… what’s gonna happen tomorrow.” Surely, when Simon was touring theaters in the mid-90s with an incarnation of his band that was several Taylors short of a Duran Duran, he couldn’t have imagined the Fab Five would have reunited, released the new album Astronaut in 2004, and launched an arena tour that included this sold-out stop at Staples Center. The band members seemed a bit dazed but delighted by mass adulation they hadn’t encountered since fainting pre-teens greeted them in 1984 – boy-band hysteria captured so well in the tour documentary Sing Blue Silver (recently released on DVD as part of this revival).
I must disclose that this review will not be a piece of objective journalism. I spent several pre-teen years obsessed with Duran Duran (mostly Simon, with a dash of Roger), and that has left a mark on me. I watched Sing Blue Silver repeatedly, had posters and pin ups covering my walls and even my ceiling, and begged and pleaded to be taken to 1984's Seven and the Ragged Tiger tour (to no avail - at 12, I was deemed too young). The fact that much of my income goes to concert tickets can be traced back to the video for "The Reflex". I have been seeking a moment as sublime as the one depicted in that video - where the wall of water comes crashing down on the dazed, hysterical girls. I've seen Duran Duran in various incarnations - twice on their tour for The Wedding Album, another time in NYC about 5 years ago, John Taylor in the odd Neurotic Outsiders (with Duff and Matt of Guns N Roses/Velvet Revolver and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols), at a Virgin Records signing, and, most thrillingly, last year at a small club called 4th and B in San Diego, where I was able to get close to the stage to behold the reunited Fab Five. But this was my first time seeing them in an arena, and I was thrilled for them that they sold it out.
Ima Robot opened the show, displaying a lot of energy. Their clever lyrics and new wave hooks testified to the Wild Boys’ lasting influence. I particularly enjoyed their final song "Black Jettas", about the popularity of that car in general and with the singer's ex-girlfriends in particular.
Lean and commanding in dark suits, the Duranimals took the stage just after 9pm, strutting like Reservoir Dogs. They kicked off the show with "Sunrise", the first single from the new album, and not a particular favorite of mine. The second song, "Hungry Like the Wolf", got everyone going. People stayed on their feet for most of the night, at least in the lower levels. As the set list unfolded, the band treated fans to most of the near-perfect Rio album, including B-sides like “Hold Back the Rain” and the haunting “The Chauffeur” (accompanied by the milder images from the soft-core video single, rented and viewed at many 80s slumber parties, that also featured the topless mud wrestling of “Girls on Film”).
The 2-hour set was well-balanced between hits, fan favorites, and new songs. Of the new songs, "Chains" and "What Happens Tomorrow" were highlights. I was hoping to hear my favorite, the cheeky "Bedroom Toys", but no luck. Simon and a back-up singer did a sexy version of "All She Wants Is", and "Planet Earth" rocked the house, driven by Roger's pounding beat. There was not a lot of banter with the crowd, and it was hard to understand Simon when he did speak, at least from where I was sitting. But then this was an arena show, not the intimate concert I saw in the club last year, so I was content to bop and sing along.
One would expect a Duran Duran concert to have exciting visuals, and this one really set a new standard. Not only did the band help create the New Wave sound; they also were the first band to fully realize the artistic and commercial potential of the music video. To acknowledge the importance of video in their career, five video panels – one for each band member – set the mood for the music. Close-ups of the live band were used perhaps too sparingly, in favor of more creative video footage. The rationed live footage led the crowd to scream as particular band members were shown. Thirtysomething women displayed unabashed nostalgia, “cherry ice cream smiles” plastered on their faces, as they declared to their dutiful husbands and boyfriends beside them and the world at large: “I’m still a John Girl.” A creative highlight was the anime piece that accompanied “Careless Memories”, an urgent track off the band’s self-titled debut album. In this shout-out to their fervent Japanese following, Nick wielded killer keyboards and Andy impaled someone on his guitar, as the band’s body count reached Kill Bill numbers.
The only thing the video screens failed to accomplish was cascading a wall of water over the front rows. I'm still waiting for that.
Read a hilarious tale of obsession-Ten
Life Lessons I've Learned from Being a Duranie
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