Duran Duran are the bands' band at Melbourne's V Festival

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Duran Duran are the bands' band at Melbourne's V Festival

Cameron Adams
April 04, 2008 12:00am
SMASHING Pumpkins, Queens of the Stone Age, Air and The Presets are topping the bill at Saturday's V Festival, but everyone's looking out for one band - Duran Duran.

Backstage at the V Festival in Sydney, two gatecrashers have made their way into the event's inner sanctum.

Security guards on their trail, they high-five Preset Julian Hamilton and zoom past various members of Duran Duran and Queens of the Stone Age.

‘‘Well done,'' Hamilton turns and yells to the man on the run. ‘‘I'm impressed.''

He then turns back and says, to no one in particular, ‘‘I want him killed. He could have stabbed Duran Duran.''

As globally franchised festivals go, the V Festival gives off a relaxed vibe.

It's a different kind of event -- it's over-18s only and the mixture of seminal acts (Smashing Pumpkins, Duran Duran, the Jesus and Mary Chain), next big things (Presets, Cut Copy), indie heroes (Hot Hot Heat, Modest Mouse) and cooler-than-thou types (Robyn, Air) -- creates a wildly diverse audience.

Some are serial festival-goers, coming down from a summer of public rock. Others are the kind of people who wouldn't normally do this communal music thing.

The festival set-up is different from the Big Day Out -- the two main stages are about 100m apart.

In Sydney, Swedish pop boundary-pusher Robyn is enjoying a career second wind.

Ten years ago she was the prototype Britney, working with Spears' songwriters and producers on hits Show Me Love and Do You Know What It Takes.

The dream turned sour with the usual struggle for control. Robyn had forfeited chasing international success and recorded her self-titled album for the Swedish market.

Then music websites Pitchfork and Popjustice latched on to her album, starting a buzz that has been heard globally.

Robyn has now licensed the album around the world, including on the oh-so-cool Modular in Australia.

The V Festival shows are her third Australian tour in little more than six months.

‘‘Australia seems to like me,'' Robyn says, ‘‘so I'm liking it back.''

Her V Festival slot is early but that doesn't mean she can't pull a crowd.

Though album favourites Handle Me, Be Mine and Konichiwa Bitches stir the crowd (‘‘I got so many hits on this album I could go on all day,'' she jokes), it's her UK No.1, With Every Heartbeat, that becomes the day's first anthem.

‘‘People just gravitate towards that song,'' Robyn says. ‘‘I never expected a song without a chorus and with a weird string part in the middle to reach people on a commercial level like it has.''

Her live set features two drummers and a keyboard player. Robyn plays electronic drums herself on Who's That Girl.

As well as belting out an acoustic version of Show Me Love when a fan requests it, Robyn mashes up a tasty concoction of Neneh Cherry's Buffalo Stance, Salt 'n' Pepa's Push It and Snoop Dogg's Sexual Eruption.

Robyn has performed on a remix of the Dogg track to help her break the US market.

‘‘The US label wanted me to work with a rapper. I said sure, as long as it's not a sucker MC like Akon or 50 Cent.''

After Australia she goes to the US, where she has licensed her album through Universal.

‘‘This time I have total control,'' she says. ‘‘I make the plans. I'm following the album around the world, I'm not pushing it where it doesn't belong. It's almost 10 years since I tried it over there, I want to see how far I can go without losing myself again.

‘‘I think this album has a lot of integrity. It doesn't really sound like anything else in pop music at the moment. For me, pop music isn't about celebrity or producers, it's about the song, it's about connecting with people. That's how I felt when I grew up. The Police, Cyndi Lauper, Kate Bush and Prince -- they were all pop artists but they had their own identities. A lot of the time people have set ideas of what pop music is.

‘‘This industry has definitely done a good job brainwashing people about what they're supposed to think about music and artists. It's good people are rebelling against that. I think that's healthy.''

Cut Copy fill the main stage in extra-high spirits. They've just found out their second album, In Ghost Colours, has made its debut at No.1 in Australia.

Modest Mouse, like Robyn, don't settle for only the one drummer on stage.

Though there are still Smiths diehards on Johnny Marr's side of the stage, they pull out one of the day's anthems when singer Isaac Brock shouts ‘‘OK, here we go'' to introduce their career-saving hit Float On.

The Jesus and Mary Chain take even less fuss on stage. Even the assembled goths (keeping their position for Smashing Pumpkins later that night) smile at the just-as-you-remember-them, feedback-drenched renditions of You Trip Me Up and Head On.

Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme embraces his band's new line-up.

‘‘It does feel like we're on a pirate ship more than ever because music sucks again,'' Homme says. ‘‘It was good for a while, but that's over. Big labels only want to back hip hop, country, emo acts or any derivation of the above. Oh yeah, and the '80s. But now it's feelin' like the Limp Bizkit era again. Does anyone really want to be back there?''

French band Air aren't the most obvious festival act with their moody Gallic electro sounds.

However, the winning trifecta of Kelly Watch the Stars, Sexy Boy and La Femme d'Argent from their seminal 1998 debut Moon Safari is hard to fault, even if the view is punctuated by Toby Allen of Human Nature losing his pants while juggling a drink tray with both hands. Unfortunately for him he chose the wrong day to go commando.

Roisin Murphy may be known as the voice of Moloko, but her trip to Australia is designed to showcase her solo career.

Anyone coming along to hear Sing it Back or Familiar Feeling is going to go home disappointed.

‘‘I've done The Time is Now only once,'' Murphy admits. ‘‘I'm a bit scared to go to Sing it Back just yet. It might overpower the set. A set is about balance. I don't think the time is right to do it. Not yet.''
Murphy's solo show recalls the disco/house amalgam of Jamiroquai -- a slick band and a reliance on hats and costume changes.

More hits and less hats might work better for the masses, but Murphy doesn't care.

‘‘It's good discipline for the band and the crew,'' Murphy says of playing festivals. ‘‘You've got a tight changeover, less time, you play in the daytime to crowds who may not know your music. It's a challenge.''

Murphy's second solo album, Overpowered, was her ‘‘functional, disco'' album. Ironically, her most commercial release so far has struggled on the chart, but she still sells concert tickets.

One gig in Russia became particularly infamous when mobile-phone footage of Murphy slamming into a chair -- used as an onstage prop -- hit the internet last October. She damaged an eye

‘‘I took that (footage) down as soon as I knew it was there,'' Murphy says. ‘‘I don't know why I was so alarmed by it, but I was. I was a bit ashamed it happened. There are so many things to think about when you're on stage -- lyrics, basic choreography, song arrangements -- and you have to be space-aware as well. I wasn't that night.''

The chair is still in the show.

Though Murphy is one of the many acts bringing dance to V Festival, she had one band in her sights: Duran Duran.

‘‘I'm looking forward to getting on that boat and hearing Rio,'' she says.

Murphy's wish comes true later as she stands side of stage as Duran Duran belt through their festival set.

‘‘Obviously with festivals it's not all our audience,'' Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes says. ‘‘You want to win people over, of course.''

Duran's hit ratio is the highest of any band on the V bill: airing Planet Earth, Girls on Film, Hungry Like the Wolf, Save a Prayer, Wild Boys, The Reflex and Rio.

Duran play for 75 minutes. In Sydney they prise in Rio album tracks Hold Back the Rain and the moody The Chauffeur, a song Powderfinger have covered.

‘‘Not many people here would know The Chauffeur,'' Rhodes says before the show. ‘‘It felt right. We'll see.''

By the next day in Brisbane they've dropped The Chauffeur and replaced it with Ordinary World, which had been dumped from Sydney's set list at the last minute.

Duran bassist John Taylor says the band feel the love in Australia -- in Melbourne they'll play the Palais Theatre, where they played on their first tour in 1982.

‘‘Australia's always been good for us,'' Taylor says. ‘‘There was one trip, around the Liberty record (1990), that was a pretty dark time for us. Australian audiences have always been very supportive of us.''

Billy Corgan and his fellow Smashing Pumpkins stayed for all of Duran's Sydney join-up. Corgan's brother Jesse was side of stage for Duran's V Festival show before showing his allegiance by trekking over to the Pumpkins when both bands' times overlapped.

Billy Corgan has refused all interview requests for the band's comeback album, Zeitgeist -- a commercial disappointment.

Aside from a bizarre photo opportunity with a koala in Sydney and playing two new songs on MTV's The Lair, the Pumpkins are keeping a low profile off-stage.

Corgan wears a metallic skirt on stage and is joined by only one other original Pumpkin -- drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.

It would be nice to have fewer 15-minute solofests and more Pumpkins hits. Today, Tonight

Tonight, Bullet With Butterfly Wings and Cherub Rock were among those played. At least that's three more than Corgan's indulgent solo tour.

In Sydney the band encore with a note-perfect cover of the Church's Reptile, Corgan telling the audience ‘‘buy Australian''.

And as the Sydney night threatens to rain, the thunder and lightning Mother Nature puts on is a better light show than any rock band could ever manage.

Courtesy Herald Sun