Often outlandish to the point of being campy in their heyday, Duran Duran still walks that line in 2021. The 1980s poster boys of British new wave helped close out Austin City Limits Music Festival's first weekend on Sunday, reeling off massive radio hits such as “Hungry Like the Wolf,” which singer Simon Le Bon introduced by asking the crowd: “Did you get your beer and your hot dogs, or is anybody HUNGRY?!”
And yet: Midway through their hourlong set, Le Bon got serious for a couple of minutes. It resonated. Introducing “Ordinary World,” a smash hit from 1993, Le Bon explained that while Duran Duran has been playing the song for decades, “this year it’s taken on a new meaning. It’s all about trying to find a normal life again.
“There were times over the last two years when we thought it was never going to happen again. But here we are.”
As the band conjured the song’s atmospheric swirl of sound across the western end of Zilker Park, Le Bon sang out the words that mattered: “I won’t cry for yesterday, there’s an ordinary world, somehow I have to find.”
That was precisely the right parting message for a weekend that felt like the first bit of “ordinary” for thousands of music fans who flocked to the festival Friday through Sunday. (It’ll all go down again Oct. 8-10, including another set from Duran Duran on the Honda stage, after the group tapes the “Austin City Limits” TV show on Tuesday evening.)
Die-hard fans of the band might have wanted more than the 70 minutes they were given for the performance. But for those mainly seeking a twinge of nostalgia, this was just about the right sampling. As the group ran through chart-toppers like “The Reflex,” “A View to a Kill” and “Rio," we were reminded they became hits because, for all the flashy MTV imagery that supported them, those songs are pretty memorable at their core.
Le Bon was a classy emcee throughout, strutting the stage in a white suit with a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Deliver Us From Ego” underneath. He shared knowing smiles with guitarist John Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor (no relation) and keyboardist Nick Rhodes. (After introducing his mates near the end of the show, the singer turned the spotlight on himself for the inevitable 007 joke: “My name is Bon. Simon Le Bon.”)
A handful of additional performers helped them flesh out the sound, most notably singer Anna Ross, who stepped out front for a duet on “Come Undone.” The set mostly stuck to tried-and-true fan favorites, though the band did play “Anniversary,” a recently released single from a new album due out later this month.
Early in the set, Le Bon followed the obligatory “Texas!” and “Austin!” shoutouts with a sly aside: “Texas, where everything fails bigger.” There’s some truth to that … but on this night, Duran Duran succeeded in sending fest-goers home with a smile, happy for the chance to re-enter an ordinary world.
Courtesy Austin American Statesman / photo by Jay Janner / American-Statesman