Duran Duran kicked off their North American tour this week with two back-to-back dates at my favorite venue, Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California. I was fortunate enough to attend the second date on August 9th. Duran Duran is one of my all-time favorite bands, and it was just an amazing night, with an incredible set that stretched two hours and kept the audience on their feet and singing and chanting along to favorites, old and new alike, as soon as they came out onto the stage.
Who: Duran Duran
Supporting: Midi Matilda
Venue: Mountain Winery
Presented By: Goldenvoice / AEG and Canadian Solar
Where: Saratoga, California
When: August 09, 2012
Seating: Section 1, Row B, Seat 12 [center floor section, second row center | moved up to stage for encore (last two songs) | roaming rear perimeter for intro (first three songs)]
Supporting: Midi Matilda
Two piece band Midi Matilda out of San Francisco opened for Duran Duran for the two Saratoga shows. I was not previously familiar with the band, but was very impressed with their music, their set, and their energy. They were obviously thrilled to be opening for Duran Duran and their fun on display on stage was contagious for those of us enjoying their performance from the audience. Skyler Kilborn was on guitar and vocals and Logan Grimé was on the drum kit. I would definitely recommend checking out their EP, Red Light District, which I just picked up on iTunes myself (they also have an assortment of singles, including “Love and the Movies”, released about a month ago). Really cool electro pop tunes, and I definitely plan to follow their work going forward to see what is next for the up and coming band. You can learn more about them via their official Facebook page.
Below are some photos I took of Midi Matilda during their performance:
- Simon Le Bon (Lead Vocals, Percussion, Guitar)
- John Taylor (Bass Guitar)
- Nick Rhodes (Keyboards)
- Roger Taylor (Drums)
- Dom Brown (Lead Guitar)
- Simon Willescroft (Saxophone, Percussion)
- Anna Ross (Backing Vocals)
It has not been a terribly long time since I’ve seen Duran Duran perform live, as I attended a concert at the O2 Arena in London in December 2011 (see previous review: Duran Duran at the O2 Arena | London, England | 12/12/2011). Since that show, they’ve released the phenomenal “A Diamond in the Mind” live Blu-Ray/DVD and companion CD. Below is a trailer for the concert video:
This was filmed at MEN Arena in Manchester, England on December 16th, 2011 – just a few days after the December 11th gig I saw at the O2, so it is awesome to have a live Blu-Ray for a show that is very similar to the one I was fortunate enough to have experience in England.
As explained in my prior review for that show, Duran Duran were one of the biggest acts in the early days of MTV. From my perspective, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Prince were the huge solo acts, Billy Idol was the king of the alternative scene, and Duran Duran was the biggest alternative band. Duran Duran really had perfect timing and a lot of other elements that made them immediate stars at that time. They had a very keen sense of style, understood the power of the music video and was very innovative in taking advantage of the medium to help spread awareness of their work; they also knew how to manipulate the media with overt sexual imagery, and their music was very catchy upon a first listen – very hooky and pop-like, but also were innovative in developing their signature sound and style. They created a sound and brand all their own, and embraced the lifestyle of being in a global band. Singer Simon Le Bon seemed as though he was born to front a rock band. If ever there was a band destined to create a James Bond film opening track, it was Duran Duran (see ‘View To A Kill’).
While there have certainly been a number of line-up changes over the years in the guitarist department, and given that most 80s bands haven’t endured past that era, it is remarkable that Duran Duran has consistently put out some great tracks over the years, keeping them relevant and turning new fans onto their classic material. Today, from their original line-up, they feature Le Bon, Roger Taylor on drums, John Taylor on bass guitar, and Nick Rhodes on keyboards.
When I was growing up (I was born in 1973), the second cassette tape I ever bought on my own was Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger, which came out in 1983, so I was about 10 or 11 at the time. This was the album that included the singles “Union of the Snake”, “New Moon on Monday”, and “The Reflex” (which to this day are among the many favorites of their releases, for me on a personal level). I have fond memories of playing that cassette over and over, and just could not get enough of their music.
To this day, Duran Duran remain among my all-time favorite half dozen bands, and of that small group, are the band that I’ve followed the longest.
While they’ve gone through a number of line-up changes over the years, they’ve fairly regularly output new material. Some has been more well received than others on a critical level, I’ve actually been quite fond of all of it, and respect the fact that they’ve tried different things over the years. The funny thing is, there are some real gems among some of their less popular studio recordings, and I know I’d love to see some of that performed live someday (though I think it’s unlikely they’d ever include songs in their live sets like “Palomino” from Big Thing, “My Antarctica” or “Violence of Summer” from Liberty, “Skin Trade” from Notorious, or “Playing With Uranium” from Pop Trash).
However, their latest release, All You Need Is Now (their 13th studio album), which came out early last year, has proven to be a huge hit with critics and fans alike. While contemporary in sound, it is very much in the spirit of some of their original works in the early 80s. Several of these new songs feature in the current set list, and from a listener perspective, they flow nicely with the classic hits that are played alongside them.
This new material is also a big hit with the fans. I know from buying my own tickets for this show via the official fan club and their pre-sale that many of those around me up front did the same, and these hard core fans quite obviously love the newer songs in rotation, like “Before The Rain”, “All You Need Is Now”, “Blame The Machines”, “Safe (In The Heat Of The Moment)”, “Mediterranea”, and “Girl Panic!”. When people are singing along to all of the words, you know that they have played the new stuff quite extensively.
So this concert was quite different from the O2 show I caught in London late last year… the O2 show was very much an indoor, arena style concert – a huge venue with a capacity of about 20,000. Mountain Winery, which, as noted, is my favorite venues, is more toward the other end of the spectrum… outdoors and part of their Summer Concert series, the more intimate venue doesn’t really have a bad seat in the place, which maxes out at about 1,750 ( a fraction of the O2 footprint). It was awesome to be in a position to compare and contrast. While both were amazing in their own unique ways, it is hard to beat having an opportunity to be up so close to the stage.
The current touring incarnation of the band is awesome, and they have great chemistry with each other on stage. Of course, the founding members – Simon Le Bo, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor are just synonymous with the band. I’ve actually been a fan of all of the guitarists that have worked with the band, but Dom Brown is really awesome in that role and plays quite effortlessly. Simon Willescroft of course adds that fundamental sax sound to certain Duran Duran songs and also supports on percussion. I totally love Anna Ross and her voice and presence on stage, and she injects that sultry feminine element that their work calls for.
As the venue could not possibly support it, this show stripped away the video screens and other added set pieces that were employed in the UK/European tours (and as seen in A Diamond in the Mind); while very cool, if one wasn’t otherwise aware of it from the prior shows, they wouldn’t know what they were missing in its absence regardless. The band did replicate the cool bit with bringing a fan on stage to kick off the backing vocal riff for “The Relex”, which is always fun to watch (some photos of the lucky fan included below).
All in all though, it’s just such a thrill to see the band recreate their incredible songs live and on stage. The older music is now most definitely of a classic status that even transcends the more specific “classic 80s” – now it is simply classic contemporary pop music. It is still relevant, still inspires, and is of such a sound unique to them, it really hasn’t “aged” at all.
Duran Duran recently had the unique honor of headlining some of the opening festivities for the 2012 Olympics. Lucy Jones of The Telegraph in the UK wrote, in response to the initial announcement, “So our choice of excellence are a bunch of irrelevant rockers who got together in 1978, a four piece who could be the most boring band that ever existed…“. Obviously, I would hold a completely polar opinion. While “boring” is a purely subjective assessment, I find it kind of ridiculous that someone could characterize Duran Duran as “irrelevant”.
How many bands in the world, in the history of popular music, have sold 100 million records? And most bands that found a hit or two in the 80s were limited to just that – one or two hits. Duran Duran had innumerable huge hits throughout the 80s, and have continued to publish new work and find success with new material throughout their career. And they are still making music, and still touring quite heavily to sold out venues. I just don’t really see any argument for “irrelevant”, and, well, she didn’t bother to make any argument in that regard. Though by insulting the band publicly, she did garner a brief flurry of attention from other mainstream media outlets, so perhaps that was the objective, at the expense of the band. But in any event, I think that their selection by the Olympics for that role in the ceremony speaks for itself, and illustrates that the band, and their music, has really stood the test of time and is an important component of our global pop culture.
I can’t imagine a pathway for another band to produce such unique music and finding comparable success in what is left of the music industry today. Duran Duran really spearheaded the “alternative” music scene in the 80s, and brought a new kind of music to the mainstream, thanks in part to their ability to make brilliant pop music. I would highly recommend checking them out in concert, if you have the opportunity, as they are a really gifted band and put on an awesome show. Short of that, the live Blu-Ray/DVD is one of the best live shows put on disc in recent years, and now only is it a great concert memorialized in the format, but it is very, very well produced and edited (in my opinion, most live DVDs are horribly edited to the point of being unwatchable).
You can find a list of upcoming tour dates on the official Duran Duran website here: Tour Dates
In closing my purchased seat was center in the second row, and that was an awesome vantage point from which to see the show. Truly an honor. After the first set completed, many of us moved up stage side for the final two songs comprising the encore, which you’ll notice from the change of view in the final photos shared below. The microphone shots were from the classic “play the fucking bass, John” chant that erupted as the show was closing out, along with a blurry shot of Simon Le Bon reaching out to some of us to make contact with his fans. Going back to the ten year old me just discovering this band and their music, I never would have imagined having such an experience in my life, especially almost 30 years later. So while some writer critic may throw down with “irrelevant” (which I take just as much as an insult at my own views on music and the artists of the past forty years), I will come back with “enduring”, based on my own, very personal experiences and views on popular music.
Below is the set list for this show (sadly, their cover of “White Lines” was a casualty with this North American tour, which was a really fun song in the UK shows; but, the inclusion of “Union of the Snake” and “Save A Prayer” makes it a very acceptable trade off) [UPDATE 8/12 - others have let me know that "White Lines" is still in rotation - just depending on the show, so good news for those who might wish to hear it live]:
Below are a few short videos I shot of the performance…
“Union of the Snake”:
“Save A Prayer”:
Below are photos taken of the venue and the first three songs of the Duran Duran set (shot with Canon 5D Mk II); as there was no open space close to the stage, these were shot along the rear perimeter so as to not obstruct the view of fans:
The remainder of the shots were taken during the balance of the show from my purchased seat, using my non-professional pocket Sony HX20V (hence the different aspect ratio):
Post Script… thanks to some friends for finding these, I appeared in a few of Nick Rhodes’ audience/crowd photos from the stage (you can see him shooting some of these in my photos above):