Seeing Duran Duran Was Worth the Decades of Waiting

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Andrea Agardy

I have a confession to make. I cannot dance, a fact that anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting near me at the Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville on Wednesday night can verify.

You’ve probably seen that viral video of the little girl in a tutu imbuing her choreographed routine to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” with a level of sass well beyond her years. That’s not me. Try as I might — and believe me, I have tried — that will never be me. I’m more like the kid second from the left in the back row who’s shuffling the wrong foot and twirling in the opposite direction of everyone else. But, at this point in my life, I’ve made peace with the fact that my dancing is always going to be more like sketch comedy than a Broadway production number.

Last week, after decades of waiting, I finally got to cross seeing Duran Duran in concert off my bucket list and I wasn’t about the let the fact that I’m rhythmically challenged get in the way of my good time.

As an ’80s kid, I grew up on MTV, back when the M actually stood for music. Between the heavy rotation the channel gave to the band’s videos and the Tiger Beat posters plastered all over the bedroom walls of my friend’s cool older sisters, it didn’t take long for me to become a devoted Duran Duran fan. Although my love of synthesizers cooled over the years, my devotion to Duran Duran never wavered.

But before Simon Le Bon and the boys took the stage in Nashville on Wednesday, CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers, a true music legend, warmed up the crowd.

You might be thinking that you don’t know who Nile Rodgers is, but I assure you, you’re mistaken. The name might not ring a bell and his face may not be instantly recognizable, but if you’ve been anywhere where popular music is playing in the last 40 years or so you’re familiar with his work. He’s a Grammy-winning producer, composer, arranger and guitarist. He’s collaborated with musical royalty ranging from Madonna to David Bowie to Diana Ross to my beloved Duran Duran and many, many more. This is the man responsible for hits like “I’m Coming Out,” “Let’s Dance,” “Le Freak,” “We Are Family” and “Get Lucky,” to name just a few.

Rodgers impressed me before CHIC ever played a single note. A few minutes before the band performed, Rodgers quietly stepped out to the edge of the stage with a camera, taking photos of the crowd and chatting with a fan who approached the stage. Here’s a guy who’s been a success in the music business for decades, whose fingerprints are all over songs that are burned into millions of people’s memories, and he still loves what he does so much that he feels the need to commemorate the moment. That spoke volumes to me.

It only got better once the band began to play. Over the course of an hour, CHIC blazed through hit after hit, including many songs made famous by other artists. When the set was over,

Kimberly Davis, one of the band’s two female vocalists, picked her purse up from the drum riser and strutted off stage, deservedly proud of a job well done.

And then came the moment I’d been waiting so long for. Duran Duran took the stage, kicking off the show with “Paper Gods,” the title track from the band’s 14th album. While many of their contemporaries favored style over substance and flamed out quickly, the members of Duran Duran have managed to do something remarkable in a business where careers are often measured in months, not years — they’ve cracked the code on how to age gracefully.

Stylish as ever, Simon Le Bon worked the crowd like a seasoned veteran, encouraging fans to sing along. Bassist John Taylor is still effortlessly cool, while keyboardist Nick Rhodes was as aloof
as ever behind his synthesizers and Roger Taylor, dubbed “the quiet one” by the press in the ‘80s was doing yeoman’s work at his drum kit. At this point in their career, the band members have their stagecraft down to a science, but the show never felt like a bunch of guys showing up at the office to pick up a paycheck. They were clearly enjoying themselves as much as the crowd was. Pandering to the nostalgia factor was definitely not on the agenda.

As I, and thousands of others, shook what our mamas gave us, the band ripped through a setlist that represented its four-decade catalog well, including older hits like “Rio,” “The Reflex” and “Wild Boys,” one of my personal favorites, alongside new songs, including “Last Night in the City.” Nile Rodgers joined his longtime friends and collaborators for “Notorious” and “Pressure Off.”

While I love a greatest-hits show as much as the next girl, Duran also had a few surprises up its sleeve. The band paid tribute to the late lamented David Bowie by beautifully weaving a few choruses of “Space Oddity” into its own “Planet Earth.” There was even a little old-school hip-hop on the menu, with a faithful rendition of Melle Mel’s “White Lines.”

Ordinarily, I’m perfectly content to go to a concert and bob my head and sway along to my favorite songs. But Wednesday wasn’t an ordinary night. It was one of those nights where I checked my self-consciousness at the door and let the good times roll. Given a little more space to move around, I probably would have become “that girl,” the one you notice in the crowd and point out to your friends as an example of what can happen when someone completely surrenders to the fun. The living, breathing definition of the concept of “dance like no one is watching.”

I found myself irrationally annoyed at the woman seated to my right for no other reason than she was impeding my movements. I also owe an apology to my friend who came to the show with me. He’s witnessed my dancing before, but I don’t think he expected to spend his night dodging my flailing arms and hip checks. He’s a real trouper though, and endured it all with a smile.

Since I started this column with a confession, it’s only appropriate that I end with another one: I can’t sing either. But luckily for all involved, the amplifiers were loud enough that my fellow fans were spared that realization.

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Photo by Zach Birdsong

Courtesy Tullahoma News