Review: Duran Duran, Trent FM Arena

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Acoustically speaking, the Trent FM Arena isn't exactly the easiest of venues. For visiting sound crews, its unforgiving, hangar-like dimensions must present a significant challenge -- but, as last night's show proved, the challenge is not an impossible one. While lesser acts have floundered, their instruments buried in murky sludge, Duran Duran's sound quality was well nigh impeccable, and a tribute to the professionalism of their team.

Bravely, the band opted to open their set with the first three numbers from their most recent album, Red Carpet Massacre. Although the album has under-performed sales-wise, the songs were enthusiastically received, signalling a return to the band's funkier, clubbier roots, and marking a noticeable shift from their more rock-based influences. Perhaps it is no coincidence that guitarist Andy Taylor -- always Duran's biggest rocker -- left the band during the album's early sessions in 2006. His place on stage was filled by an unassuming chap called Dom, who kept his profile low and his solos to a minimum.

As if to emphasise the shift, bassist John Taylor -- still pretty-boy handsome, despite an increasing sartorial resemblance to Keith Richards -- doubled up on additional keyboards, adding a walloping bass-heavy throb to set opener The Valley. Giving him a run for his money in the forty-something heart-throb stakes, Roger Taylor cut a lean, agile figure on the drums, his superb playing placing him at the heart of Duran's revitalised sound. Representing the arty faction, keyboardist Nick Rhodes maintained his usual inscrutable, impassive stance.

And then there was Simon: still playing the rock star, striking every pose in the book, lapping up the limelight and occasionally making a bit of a twit of himself -- but never taking himself too seriously, and clearly still loving every minute. According to Simon, Duran's debut single Planet Earth "is about the fact that we're not alone". Had he been communing with latter-day UFO watcher Robbie Williams, one wondered...

For the crowd, the galvanising moment came early on, as the new songs gave way to a storming version of Hungry Like The Wolf. Suddenly, the entire Arena was on their feet, giving it up and living it large. From that point on, Duran could do no wrong. Even comparatively weaker hits such as A View To A Kill and the more recent (Reach Up For The) Sunrise sounded fantastic, the latter prompting massed arm waving from the front to the back of the hall.

Although the band could easily have played it safe, risks continued to be taken. An hour into the set, in a neat inversion of the increasingly popular "acoustic interlude", a fifteen minute all-electronic set was performed, with the four core members lined up in front of mini-synthesisers, paying homage to electro pioneers Kraftwerk.

Or at least, that was the theory. As it turned out, Simon couldn't rein in those rock star impulses for long. Barely touching his kit, he soon broke rank from the line-up, engaging instead on a sequence of moves which combined 1980s b-boy robotics with some decidedly camp pelvic thrusting. The overall effect was as endearing as it was preposterous.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was when an extended Girls On Film morphed into a cover of The Temptations' Papa Was A Rolling Stone. Considering Duran's somewhat shaky reputation for cover versions (who could forget their bizarre take on Public Enemy's 911 Is A Joke, for instance?), this was another major gamble -- but again, it was a gamble that paid off. "WHO'S YOUR DADDY?!" yelled Simon, over and over again, slapping his breast for emphasis. You had to love him for it. No, really, you did.

Almost two hours in, the set climaxed with an exemplary, spot-on Wild Boys, which played to all the band's collective strengths. The only real error of judgement came during the encore of Rio, which was besmirched by not one, but two, Eighties Jazz Sax solos. (Paying homage to Kraftwerk is one thing, but paying homage to Spandau Ballet's Steve Norman is quite another.) Nevertheless, it was the only slight quibble in an otherwise mighty, masterful and gloriously entertaining night.


Set list:
The Valley, Red Carpet Massacre, Nite Runner, Hungry Like The Wolf, Planet Earth, Falling Down, Come Undone, Skin Divers, The Reflex, Save A Prayer, A View To A Kill.
Electro set: Last Chance On The Stairway/All She Wants Is/Warm Leatherette, I Don't Want Your Love, Skin Trade, Tempted.
Notorious, Girls On Film/Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Ordinary World, (Reach Up For The) Sunrise, The Wild Boys.
Encore: Rio.