“I remember standing onstage thinking, ‘I want to do a Duran Duran concert here,’” mused frontman Simon Le Bon at the Hollywood Bowl Thursday night, recalling the band’s only other appearance at the legendary Los Angeles venue, on an Arsenio Hall anniversary special in 1993. “And now here we are, doing the thing we love the most.”
Le Bon, bassist John Taylor, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, and drummer Roger Taylor’s love for what they do – perhaps surpassed only by the love they received from the sold-out, 17,000-strong crowd of delighted Duranies – was evident Thursday. This was a band, almost four decades into a career of wildly ranging ups and downs, at the peak of its powers: reliving, reclaiming, and even reinventing its great stadium era. The sense of triumph was palpable, and many fans, exiting the venue at the end of the epic evening, were overheard raving that it was the best Duran Duran show they’d ever witnessed.
“Is anyone suffering from hits fatigue?” joked the loquacious Le Bon – his best one-liner of the night – as the band charged through classic crowd-pleasers like “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “The Reflex,” “Come Undone,” and “Planet Earth.” But Duran Duran actually took a major risk at the very start of the show, breaking the number-one cardinal rule of “heritage act” concerts – by opening not with a familiar oldie, but with the dark, hymn-like, seven-minute title track from their brand-new 14th album, Paper Gods. This bold move could have massively backfired and immediately alienated the many concertgoers who admittedly came just hear to “Girls on Film,” but instead it was the perfect mood-setter for a glorious night. And if anyone needed definitive proof of the new wave veterans’ relevance in 2015, this was it.
Other standout moments included Duran’s longtime friend and producer Nile Rodgers, whose Chic opened Thursday at the Bowl with their own incredible hits-filled set, lending his distinctive chickenscratch disco guitar to “Notorious”; Rodgers joined by Paper Gods co-producer Mr. Hudson on the vivacious new single “Pressure Off”; and an unexpected dusting-off of the little-played Wedding Album track “Too Much Information.”
Also surprising, or actually downright shocking: When Duran’s performance of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” – off their infamous and embarrassing Thank You covers album, arguably the biggest blunder of their career – turned out to be one of the top highlights of the night, with the band making the classic 1983 hip-hop jam thrillingly their own.
And throughout the 90-minute show, Le Bon’s vocals were equally thrilling – clearer, crisper, and more forceful than ever, the happy result of years of work with a vocal therapist. Freed from the vocal problems that forced the band to cancel a run of concert dates in 2011, the already quite self-assured Le Bon now sang with almost superhuman confidence; when he hit that helium-high note in “Ordinary World,” or got through “A View to a Kill” without any cringeworthy, Live Aid-reminiscent gaffes, even the fans in the Bowl’s highest bleachers could see the grin on his face.
Speaking of Le Bon’s voice, he was in a very chatty mood Thursday night, which unfortunately meant that, due to the Bowl’s strict curfew, Duran Duran ran out of time and could only encore with one song. No one in the audience was suffering from any sort of “hits fatigue” and surely would have loved to hear “Wild Boys” and “Save a Prayer,” which sadly got knocked off the setlist due to Le Bon’s excessive stage banter. But everyone was dancing – in the Bowl aisles, if not on the actual sand – for the celebratory closer “Rio,” while the group’s iconic Patrick Nagel cover girl smiled down benevolently.
Duran Duran’s critically heralded Paper Gods – which includes cameos from Janelle Monae, Kiesza, John Frusciante, Jonas Bjerre of Mew, and Lindsay Lohan, and features production by Nile Rodgers, Mr. Hudson, and Mark Ronson – is out now on Warner Bros. Records.