DURAN DURAN'S INTIMATE CLUB SHOW
There are certain established acts like Madonna, Kylie and the Scissor Sisters that play best in expansive arenas and stadiums, and others like Marianne Faithfull, Lady Gaga and Rufus Wainwright that work better in small, intimate clubs. Duran Duran falls into the first category.
While most hardcore Duranies would have cut off their right rubber arm bracelets to see the Fab Five in their infancy at Birmingham England’s Rum Runner club in 1980 or at L.A.’s Roxy club on their first U.S. outing the following year, Duran Duran has evolved into something much bigger and broader than a bar band over the last 29 years.
Cause we’ve since seen them on the beach and we’ve seen them on TV -- during the “Rio” era -- and we’ve seen them at Wembley Arena for Live Aid in 1985 after they topped the charts with “The Reflex” and “A View to a Kill.” In fact their 83/84 “Sing Blue Silver” tour saw them playing some of the biggest concert venues in the world, so it seemed only fitting when they titled their 1984 live album “Arena.” And they managed to continue this trend over the last two decades, from their comeback tour in the 90’s to their lowest point, when reduced to founding members singer Simon Le Bon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes, they promoted their lackluster “Pop Trash” CD at county fairs, through their mega-successful reunion tour in 2003 till today when they can still pack ‘em in.
But at a smaller club like The Fillmore in San Francisco on July 7 -- whether or not it was the ideal setting for such a larger-than-life supergroup -- that’s something that the hundreds of fans who packed the venue for the sell-out show were willing to shell out inflated scalper fees for.
Taking the stage at a quarter to 10 for a two-hour show, the original four with guitarist Dominic Brown, [and accompanied by a backing singer and a saxophonist] didn’t disappoint them, opening with a rocking rendition of fan favorite “Wild Boys,” suited up in chic, tailored blazers and trousers.
One might have presumed that in a club the band would tone their show down to suit the setting, but Duran Duran did no such thing. Sure, absent were the video screens and pyrotechnics, but sound wise, they seemed to even take it up a couple notches.
In fact the thunderous shredding that ensued in the opening number made way for the equally rocking “Hold Back the Rain,” which got the raucous crowd all sorts of riled up. This would have been fine and dandy, except for the fact that the musicians had little room to move on stage, no room for Le Bon’s new wave hip-swivels as the band blazed through a medley of “Nightrunner,” perhaps the sexiest dance track off 2007’s “Red Carpet Massacre,” late 80’s hits “Notorious” and “I Don’t Want Your Love” and an acoustic rendition of slow dance classic “Save a Prayer,” which evolved into an audience sing-a-long. “We got the place well steamed up,” noted Le Bon.
But while the audience seemed most responsive to classics like “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio,” the band truly shone, within this constrained environment, on mid-tempo tracks like Arcadia-era “Election Day,” which Le Bon called “a song to make you wet yourself if you’re not already wet,” 80’s jazz-funk single “Skin Trade,” featuring a pimped out Le Bon in hat and shades, and even softer 90’s era hits like “Come Undone” and “Ordinary World,” which saw the singer’s excellent vocals soaring through the roof.
But every time that the band amped it up too much, it seemed to backfire. John Taylor had to go through the 1,2,3,4 twice to get the quintet, with little room to focus, going on riff-rocker “Red Carpet Massacre” and Le Bon had a difficult time catching his tambourine on such a crowded stage during “Reach Up for the Sunrise,” especially when blocked by Taylor and Brown, who were swapping guitar spit. The arena-sized claps and fist pumping, although well-meaning, looked as out of place as Le Bon’s spraying water at the crowd during the “White Lines” crescendo -- truly anti-climactic for anyone who’s seen the big-screen waterfall moment in “The Reflex” video.
However, the biggest washout of the evening occurred during what Le Bon called their “little tribute to the great performer Michael Jackson.” “ It doesn’t matter what you think,” he continued, “everyone’s got a bit of him in them,” before launching into the somber, bathroom break-inducing track “Do You Believe In Shame?” originally dedicated to Andy Warhol on their forgettable 1989 “Big Thing” CD. If the choice of words and even song title seemed odd, even unseemly, and the sentiment, forced – Jackson’s memorial was earlier that day, so something had to be said to mark the moment? – they made up for it with a sensational encore.
After DJed snippets of 007 classics “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” and “You Only Live Twice” filled the room, Le Bon returned to the stage as "Le Bond," in a white blazer, black slacks and bow tie for an elegantly torched-out rendition of “A View to a Kill,” before loosening his tie for dance heavy club classics “Planet Earth” and “Girls on Film,” which harkened back to those early nights at the Rum Runner. Now that’s what I call club music, even though there was no room to do that 80's side-to-side turning dance that Molly Ringwald does in "The Breakfast Club" -- on stage or off. Believe me, I tried.
“Are you having a good time?” Le Bon inquired of the audience to which a resounding “yeah” was heard. “We’re the band designed to make your nipples harder.”
And while they certainly did just that, especially in such close proximity to the still dreamy-looking, stylish, and innovative band, I’m still counting the minutes on my pop swatch till their next proper show, where they can relax their designer belts a little and get more breathing and playing room. I’d also love to see all five next time, because positioned behind the smoke and stage lights, the sound technician, backing musicians and guitar tuner, all that was seen of drummer Roger Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes were the former’s arms, and the latter's trademark blond mop, and sometimes only partially, when obscured by that pesky saxophone.