“Did you get your smoked salmon and your caviar? Or is anybody hungry?” roared Simon LeBon, introducing “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran on New Year’s Eve.
Booked for a special weekend of shows on New Year’s Eve and then New Year’s Day 2017, Duran Duran fed a ravenous sold-out crowd song after song at The Theater at MGM National Harbor Saturday, fielding one of the very first concerts in the brand new casino and entertainment complex on the cusp of DC city limits in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Duran Duran hit the stage as part of their Paper Gods Tour, promoting their excellent 14th studio album, which cracked the top 10 of the Billboard 200 upon its release in late 2015. And so they began their set with a long, arresting version of the anthemic “Paper Gods” title track, which showcased every member at their best — particularly the cerebral Nick Rhodes on the synthesizers that comprise the song’s atmospherics.
From the album Paper Gods, Duran Duran also presented “Last Night in the City” and “What Are the Chances” at about a third through the set — the first a thrilling, pulsating dance song, performed as a duet with Simon and backing vocalist Erin Stevenson (who sounded pitch perfect) and the latter a soaring song of romance that fits neatly next to the best selections from 1993’s The Wedding Album. (“Pressure Off” appears later, appropriately paired with “Notorious.”)
Speaking of The Wedding Album, the band played “Come Undone” and then later “Ordinary World,” where Simon sang the most impassioned rendition of the song ever I heard. Much has been made of Simon’s impressive vocals since his 2011 recovery from losing his voice, but hearing is believing as to how the man is impossibly better than ever before. He blew away the 3,000 or more people in the room.
Roughly at the center of the set, Simon playfully reflected on how shameful it must be to be caught “twerking” but then suggested a twerk to “Notorious,” which came up next with plenty of funk, as promised. Here, the rhythm section of John Taylor on bass and Roger Taylor on drums really shined, particularly when Roger hit those hi-hats. The band came to a dead stop at the end of the song, and Roger bolted straight up to standing, punctuating his dynamic performance in the ever-popular song. (Sadly Roger’s position on the theater stage made it difficult for more to get a proper picture of him!)
Longtime vocalist Anna Ross sang with mighty flair during “Notorious” as well, more than earning a boisterous round of cheers. Earlier, she also drew righteous applause for her powerful vocals during “Come Undone.” And it was a pleasure also to see longtime Duran saxman Simon Willescroft truly excite us during “Notorious” and particularly later during “Rio.” And I could write an entire blog on the steadfast Dom Brown, who capably nails every wild guitar riff that the band throw his way.
Other favorite moments were scattered throughout the show — like the joy on John’s face as he sang with Simon early during “Wild Boys,” then literally jumped up and down while wielding his bass. Later, Simon approached Nick for a vocal interlude during “The Reflex,” where Nick said “Why” through a vocoder so deeply that it sparks smiles all over the stage in the resulting comic moment.
The band ended their set with the lively “segue edit” of “Girls on Film,” and then broke just in time for the extraordinary digital screens on the MGM National Harbor stage to light up with the proceedings of the Times Square Ball Drop in Manhattan. The audience counted down the last 10 seconds until midnight, and then the band blasted everyone with tons and tons of confetti to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.”
With regard to the MGM National Harbor stage, The Theatre proves an impressive place to watch a music concert. Its state of the art sound system sounded incredible, perhaps delivering the most crystal clear live Duran Duran experience ever. And the stage rose to a perfect perch where audience and photographer alike could enjoy a panoramic view of the proceedings while still feeling intimately close to the action.
Duran Duran closed their show with encores of “Save a Prayer” and “Rio.” In his introduction to “Save a Prayer,” Simon noted that a lot of icons passed away during 2016, including the likes of David Bowie, Muhammed Ali, George Michael, and Carrie Fisher, among others. Simon also acknowledged that this was likely the “new normal” for us and that we would continue to see stage and screen stars who made an indelible impression on us during the ‘70s and ‘80s continue to pass. Let’s hope “normal” also includes many more shows to come from Duran Duran this year and well into the future!