Duran Duran Are a Truly Great Band, Even Now

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Duran Duran
March 22, 2017
Smart Financial Center
by Cory Garcia

There was a time, however brief in the long arc of history, when the then lads of Duran Duran were one of the biggest acts in music. Rad songs, good looks and being one of the first acts to really embrace the emerging medium of music videos had the group playing some of the biggest venues around the world in the mid-’80s. Did you know they played after Phil Collins, Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Live Aid? True story.

The point of this history lesson is this: It is very easy to see today why Duran Duran were so popular 30 years ago, because they are largely still those things. Sure, their sound has evolved since their masterpiece Rio, but some songs on 2015’s Paper Gods are just as good as anything else on modern pop radio these days. Their set moves back and forth through time, but there’s a constant level of quality that few bands decades deep into their careers muster.

They’ve also still got the charisma of those early years, albeit more refined perhaps. At the very least, Simon Le Bon isn’t cutting up his shirts like he did way back when, but he’s still got a face that had many a fan screaming. But it’s the little things that make him so watchable; how he moves across the stage, the way he shakes his hips, how he still knows the right moments to pose. His voice has aged well too, and he sounded completely on point throughout the night.

There was a buzz in the crowd ahead of the show, and it was evident that the group still has a devoted group of fans here. They exploded as the band tore into “Wild Boys” near the start of the set, and by and large kept up the energy, whether the band was playing hits big (“Hungry Like the Wolf”) or small (“(Reach Up for the) Sunrise”). The big surprise of the night was the appearance of “Careless Memories,” which hadn’t shown up on a set in over a year.

While the energy was high and there was much dancing over the course of the night, it wasn’t all fun and games. In a rather elegant speech, Le Bon talked about the violence in London earlier in the day because he felt like he had to address it. Not the kind of lead-in anyone ever wants to have to say before “Save a Prayer,” but one that touched many in the audience.

Not that I would turn down the chance to see them at the Toyota Center or that I thought things felt intimate at any point, but I’ll confess that it was nice to see a group who were true superstars in the smaller confines of the Smart Financial Center. For all their faith in technology, seeing them with my own eyes confirmed what I’ve suspected: Duran Duran are a truly great band, even now.

Personal Bias: To this day, the Duran Duran tribute record that Mojo Records put out in ’97 remains one of my favorite records of all time. It’s like someone reached into my brain and then booked all my favorite bands to contribute to it. Because of this, I’ve always had a soft spot for Duran Duran, because if they’re my favorites’ favorites, they must be cool.

The Crowd: There are three types of families that go to shows: the ones where the whole family is on the same page when it comes to how much they like the band; the ones where the parent is doing the kids a solid and going to a show with them; and the ones where the parents are super-into the performer and the kids don’t care a bit. That last one is the most rare, but when you see two kids, sitting, arms folded, staring up at the sky because they don’t get “Hungry Like the Wolf,” it’s something special.

Overheard In the Crowd: “Touch my drink and I’ll kill you.” The person who told me this later clarified that they were joking, but that was a hell of a way to make an introduction. Of course, I annoyed them the rest of the night no matter how they tried to engage, because if you’re going to treat me like I’m some sort of freak, it’s only fair that I act like one.

Random Notebook Dump: The last time Duran Duran came to Houston they were up in The Woodlands. I’m a pretty big fan of the Pavilion, but I’m really glad this particular show was over at Smart Financial. I’m a firm believer that on average an indoor set is going to be better than an outdoor one, and this show really benefitted from being inside. Plus, driving to Sugar Land from downtown is just so much easier than driving up 45.

Courtesy Houston Press