The New Romantic Kings Reign Supreme in their 45th Year.
Hello, my name is Aron and I’m a Durannie.
Back in 1983, when toxic machismo openly dominated all aspects of society and culture, being a chubby bespectacled suburban Jewish kid with bleached bangs and Duran Duran pins on his Le Chateau peacoat was much like wearing a hi-vis vest in a firefight. While not exactly a boyband, the Fab Five as the British music rags dubbed them were new-wave pretty boys dressed in nice clothes who played the songs and made all the girls scream. To prove my love of these made-up pop idols in no way questioned my heterosexuality and masculinity, I made sure that of an entire bedroom wall devoted to the Birmingham quintet, it was equally apportioned. If I had any individual photos of the band members on my wall, I had all of them, visually connected from the same shoot or spread to body-check any notions of romantic favoritism. I liked ’em all, from Simon Le Bon’s metaphoric lyrics and smooth voice (and great hair) to Roger Taylor’s bombastic drum fills (and great hair), over to Nick Rhodes’s quiet synthesizer seriousness (and really great hair) and John Taylor’s funked-up bass (and amazing hair) even Andy Taylor’s screaming guitar solos (and not-great hair), for me Duran Duran was the greater than the sum of its parts. But, if I had to pick… I was a John Boy. I mean, he plays Dingwall basses, the Stradivarius of Saskatoon.
There are many reasons why Duran Duran is held in such high esteem, still 40 years after first finding a crazed audience. Taking cues from inspirations such as David Bowie (in particular, guitarist Mick Ronson), maybe a bit of Steve Jones, a bunch of Bernard Edwards, then stirring in Roxy Music’s synths and a disco beat. The band was born during a small but fervent nightclub scene in Birmingham, unique from London. The nascent form of Duran Duran created by John Taylor and Nick Rhodes picked the good bits from downward-trending punk and disco spheres to progress into a highly danceable, synth-funk rock sound. Simon Le Bon said to Betty Page and quoted in the Dec. 13, 1980 issue of Sounds, “We want to be the band to dance to when The Bomb drops.” From their influences, they also learned to wield style and image, initially more skillfully than their instruments. Their visual look, even outside of the Kahn and Bell-supplied Antony Price suits and nautical T-shirts worn onstage, was lofted through their album artwork, band photos, and logos. They continued to set the artistic trends later by embracing the new music video format of promotion, getting swept up as the darlings of MTV. Working with director Russell Mulcahy, the band most notably shone in videos for Rio and Hungry Like The Wolf, elevating music videos to a place of artistic importance with the ability to make an average album a chart-topper. But being a band of handsome blokes can only get so far. Being a band of handsome blokes who write great pop songs makes an enormous difference. Drop a video of said handsome and talented blokes playin’ boozy grabass on a yacht in Sri Lanka with peppered-in footage of elephants, a sexy Bahamian model, and a randy Dr. Livingstone combing the jungle to get laid and you have a recipe for stardom. It was this commitment to image that broke the band in North America and then the world so much so that NBC’s Friday Night Videos featured countdowns to their video premieres. And I was one of millions up late eager for the first viewing.
On March 5th, 1984, on the tour supporting their third album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, I finally got to see Duran Duran at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto for the first time. It was actually their 4th show in the city. There are few details I remember distinctly from that night, but the unbelievably high decibel screams from all the girls in attendance had me actually putting my fingers in my ears. Any silhouetted movement in the luxury boxes behind the stage triggered a wave of shrieks. It was chaotic and thrilling. When the lights fell, the roar from inside must’ve been heard out on busy Carlton St. Walking out in darkness to their new instrumental Tiger Tiger, the stage lighting burst alight, a video screen lit up bringing the band to the back rows, and young Duran Duran broke into Is There Something I Should Know? and the Gardens exploded, starting a night, that despite forgetting all these little details of, sticks with me still, almost 40 years later. I never heard an audience as loud again as I did that night, although there were aspects from that show in March 1984 that recurred all these decades later at Scotiabank Arena.
Duran Duran’s Future Past 40th Anniversary tour began in Spring 2022 with shows in the UK and Europe before heading to North America. The band made a stop in Toronto in the summer of that first leg. Restarting in 2023, again in the UK, they returned to Toronto for the 72nd of the tour’s entire 75 shows. Joining them on this final leg of the tour is the legendary Nile Rodgers and Chic and Brit indie-pop band, Bastille.
As the house lights dropped and the stage lights lit up, a futuristic Blade Runner-esque animated video played on the backline video screen as the instrumental Velvet Newton off the Future Past Deluxe Edition played ‘from tape’. In silhouette, the Duran Duran Fab Four of Simon Le Bon, Roger Taylor, Nick Rhodes, and John Taylor stood on the center stage riser. Le Bon remained alone and still until a kick drum beat led into Night Boat from their first album. After starting deep and moody, Le Bon greeted the crowd screaming TORONTO ONTARIO CANADA!, and referred to Toronto as the ‘almost home of Duran Duran’ before more kick drums nit and Wild Boys began. Into another classic, next up was Hungry Like The Wolf, which gave a bit of spotlight to been-here-so-long-he-may-as-well-be-a-full-member guitarist Dom Brown and saxophonist Simon Willescroft. The hits kept coming with a song that I feel is full of ignored complexity, A View To A Kill from the James Bond film of the same name, then Notorious. Digging a bit deeper into their history, Duran Duran pulled out Lonely In Your Nightmare from Rio which threw in a bit of Rick James’ Super Freak. Next up was the fan favourite, Is There Something I Should Know?, which was heard first on the U.S. re-release of the band’s first self-titled album.
Jumping back to 1984 and finding the parallels to today, this song in particular was played with the same verve and vibrancy. 26-year-old Simon Le Bon would likely be thrilled to learn that he hadn’t lost any of his vocal range and that he was still dancing ably on a stage in front of near-20,000 adoring fans almost 40 years later. Of the remaining original members, the same can be said. Roger and John Taylor, neither married to one another nor related otherwise, still remain a powerful rhythm section full of hard-hitting beats and grooving basslines that have proven timeless. Nick Rhodes remains the master of textures within the band though remains as stern and stock-still onstage now as he did then. Perhaps it was all the work he had to do back then before live-sound-tech-administered backing tracks became an accepted norm. Another oldie, Friends of Mine, from the first album was among a handful of DD songs that showed their darker side. Using real-time technology, they transformed audience members into monsters on the video screens, most of whom were in the front row and couldn’t see their alter egos on the stage wing screens. On this note, the stage design was beautiful, incorporating two v-shaped lighting trusses that supported v-shaped partially see-through mesh screens on motors that raised and lowered to alter the stage shape on demand. Sticking with the era, Careless Memories followed before Le Bon introduced the next song. Calling Ordinary World a song about self-redemption, he dedicated it as they have sadly in recent times to the people of Ukraine, saying “We support them in their struggle and wish nothing more than life and happiness in their own country. Their own ordinary world.” He, next, introduced a previous collaborator, Canadian pop star Kiesza to lend her formidable voice to Come Undone.
Their newest song, Danse Macabre, the title track from their forthcoming Halloween-themed album of covers and reimaginings brought a dark thumping bass and beat as well giving energetic backup singers Anna Ross and Rachael O’Connor a chance to absolutely slay with their harmonies. It also gave Simon a chance to spit some bars. Planet Earth got all the creaking Gen X knees up and bending and served as the band intro section of the show. Nick Rhodes cracked what looked like a grin when the girls cried out after his intro. Love it or hate it, and I’ll say that upon first listen, I was firmly in the latter, the band performed their cover of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s White Lines next. I will admit to being a changed man in this opinion. It was the highest energy performance of the night and if another in the crowd needed it, I think I was joined by a few more converts. Two more classics, The Reflex and Girls on Film (segueing in and out of Calvin Harris’ Acceptable in the 80s) followed and I couldn’t help but think of the video for the former, shot at that show I attended in 1984. If I recall correctly, they played the song twice that night for the shoot. I then remembered after the video was released some schoolmate told me that their sister got soaked when the water poured out of the video screen at that show. Oh, the fables from a simpler, dumber time! As well, every male Durannie in Toronto or their dumb brother claimed to be this guy. Duran Duran left the stage for a minute then returned for a pair of encore songs. Telling the crowd it was time to sing, Le Bon instructed that he’d handle the verses and the audience’s responsibility was the choruses. No one needed to be encouraged to put some emotion into singing the ageless ballad, Save A Prayer. Though the crowd was ringing, it would be impossible to expect a volume similar to that night in Toronto in 1984. However, the chorus of voices that sang loudest on this night like that one was clearly and loudly feminine. There was only one song missing to complete the set and that was the title track off their second album, Rio. Although not explicitly pressured to do so, it became another singalong and put that final smile on all assembled. Taking plenty of time to wave their goodbyes, Duran Duran finally left the stage. But the nostalgic smiles, on the band and crowd remained.
Despite some 80s musical pomposity and the dripping sharkskin gloss of its production that hasn’t aged well for most of the decade’s stars, Duran Duran didn’t change much arrangement-wise. If anything, this proves that whether on the small stage of the Rum Runner in 1980 or 20-odd thousand capacity arenas night after night on the current tour, they can still put on a capital-S Show. It also proves that their success wasn’t just about image or fetching faces, but that it was truly built on the music. Nostalgia only goes so far and for so long but to persistently prove the validity of their legacy and despite it, continue to write and produce good music long after the heyday, Duran Duran deserves all the acclaim and titles they’ve earned.
Duran Duran’s Future Past 40th Anniversary tour finally comes to a close with shows tonight at the Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, NYC, and tomorrow night in Atlantic City. More info is found here.