“So we’re really at the very beginning of a tour that will probably go on for a year and a half… and we’re just starting to kind of realize the kind of appetite and love that is out in the world for Duran Duran… It hasn’t always been like this; you know we’ve been around for 35 years… We have a great job that we love doing…” Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran at The Grand Theatre at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada on Friday night… taking a moment to express some gratitude to the sold out crowd before performing one of their most popular songs (not from the 80s), “Ordinary World”. Supporting their 14th studio album, Paper Gods, which Warner Bros. Music released this month, the setlist for this tour is a good representation of the phenomenal music Duran Duran have released over the past four decades. But with less than two hours to perform, the show only scratches the surface of their brilliant catalog of music. With founding members Nick Rhodes on keyboards and John Taylor on bass, along with Roger Taylor on drums and Simon on vocals, the group have ties working with one another that goes back to the start, and they still make up the core of the band, with each contributing greatly to their signature sound. A lot of bands who have been around for a long time and have a strong association with a certain period or era become resentful of that, and some view their most popular songs with disdain – as if those hits are anchors holding them down rather than stepping stones that helped to propel them forward into world. Some other bands even refuse to perform their most popular hits live for their fans (see: Radiohead). Duran Duran are the opposite. Not only are they mindful of their own history and cognizant of what fans love to celebrate, but they appear happy to celebrate it right along with those of us in the audience. Duran Duran has always been about the past, the now, and the future, somehow all at the same time. I guess it goes back to that “great job” that they “love doing”, which is quite a modest take on creating some of the songs that are included in the soundtracks to the lives of people of my generation. As far as their concert tours go, they always bring some of that “new” with them with each tour, and this one is no different. From a healthy sampling of the new songs as well as new takes on older ones, they remind us all that they are accomplished artists with the ability to not only recreate that sublime studio sound, but also breathe vibrancy into it for how it all comes together on stage, in both sound and visuals. And somehow the guys appear timeless themselves, as they seem to defy the gods (paper or otherwise) and never appear to age year to year… the principals all look 10 to 20 years younger than they should, which contributes to the feeling of being part of an event that could be happening in the past, present, or future. At certain points during their live set, you could squint a little and travel back in time to the 00s, 90s, and 80s.
Who: Duran Duran (Paper Gods On Tour)
Supporting: Clean Bandit
Venue: The Grand Theatre at Grand Sierra Resort
Where: Reno, Nevada
Promoter: Grand Sierra Resort and Casino
When: August 7, 2015
Seating: General Admission Standing Front Row of Pit (VIP Package with Early Entry; also photo pass first three songs)
On a personal note, this is one of the tours I’ve most looked forward to in 2015 – maybe THE tour that I’ve most looked forward to all year. As a huge fan of the band, they were one of the artists to inspire me to get into rock and roll photography and journalism in the first place, so it’s a real honor (and surreal) to have the privilege and opportunity to take photos at one of their shows, and I’ve very appreciative.
On the heels of Duran Duran Appreciation Day (#DDAD15) last month (what other band has an official, annual appreciation day?), the band’s new album, Paper Gods, debuted on September 10th. Their 14th studio album and the first in almost five years, it is their first venture with Warner Bros. Records and it is produced by the legendary Nile Rodgers, Mark Ronson, Josh Blair, and Mr Hudson. It serves as fuel to this current tour – their first since 2012 and includes their first appearance at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl and Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
The new album also features collaborations with Janelle Monáe, Nile Rodgers, Kiesza, violinist Davidé Rossi, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, and Lindsay Lohan.
The band released the audio for the title track on YouTube, which continues to push the boundaries of what some might expect from a group originally built on a New Wave foundation and MTV videos in the early 80s, though they always seem to be looking into the future musically and otherwise. The lead single – “Pressure Off” feat. Janelle Monae – was released back in June.
Paper Gods is Duran Duran’s first album for Warner Bros. Records, and the project reunited the band with Nile Rodgers, who co-produced Notorious as well as tracks on Astronaut. If the new album is what we can expect from the new relationship with Warner, I hope it is a permanent home for them with their future recordings.
This marks my second visit to the newly renovated concert space at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, having covered the inaugural relaunch of it for the Billy Idol concert last month.
Apparently, the one acre large stage (yes, just the stage alone is one acre, one of the largest in the world) is generally the same. It was long ago host to MGM’s “Hello Hollywood Hello” production from 1978 to 1987. The entire venue has been redesigned by John Sergio Fisher & Associates. With a standing room-only GA floor space in front of the very wide and deep stage, the theater also features a two-tiered entry with theater-style seating going up to the back of the venue, as well as VIP booths with bottle service. The lobby has also been redesigned.
Supporting the new music venue is obviously a big priority with Grand Sierra Resort, apparent if you are within view of the front of the hotel, as there is a giant high resolution vertical electronic billboard running the length of the main tower, running promos for upcoming shows the majority of the time.
I really love this venue, and as an added benefit for me (living in the Sierra Foothills), it is a much quicker and easier commute compared with Bay Area venues (as long as snow is out of season!).
The layout of the venue is awesome, with a GA standing floor with a stage that is relatively low considering how vast it is… quite long as well, it offers a lot of opportunity for being right up front and gives the artists a nice platform with which to move around and engage the audience.
There is seating that goes up and back above the GA floor, and with this show I had an opportunity to check out different vantage points during the concert to see what the experience is like from different spots, and there is honestly not a bad seat in the house. With some venues, you feel “too far back” or decidedly on one side or the other – at Grand Theatre, everything feels centered and sounds great. You feel like you are getting much more than your money’s worth as it all “feels new” and your senses can tell you where money has been invested into it to make a richer experience… from the sound system to the lighting to the new LCD screens behind the stage, it’s all quite state-of-the-art.
I’m also very impressed with the staff at Grand Sierra Resort. I attend a lot of concerts (as well as cover pop culture events outside of music, which often pull from the same pool of event security personnel) and all of the people I interact with at GSR are super friendly and professional and, well, they just seem happy (in contrast to some of their peers at other venues who can be made up of people driven with anything from ego and attitude to misery and apathy wherein you don’t have any consistency to even know what you are dealing with or how to approach them). All together it makes for having a foundation for a pleasant experience.
I expect that this venue will continue to come into its own with more great shows as word quickly spreads that it makes for a great addition to bands touring Nevada/Northern California/The Pacific Northwest.
With this show, given Duran Duran’s popularity, there were a lot of fans that traveled from other states to take part in what this venue had to offer. I know from talking with concertgoers that a big part of the value proposition to them was the GA floor (at other venues the price and availability of front row and close seat made those shows more prohibitive). Also, being that it is a resort as well, GSR makes for a great “concert destination” show where you can arrive, park with ease (more than ample free public parking unlike what we experience in big cities), and stay the night in one of their rooms (my sister stayed the night at the Billy Idol show last month so I had a chance to check out the lodging – very nice!). Plus as a casino resort, they have a lot of restaurants that are still open after a late night concert.
The only negative for me with this concert – not the fault of the venue or the artist – were a handful of awful concertgoers in the audience that seemed to lack common decency, manners, respect, and empathy for others, and any semblance of self awareness. I won’t go into the details, but there were some truly awful people around the center and front of the GA crowd who were threatening (verbally and physically – one kept pushing my wife and another threatened to beat up another friend of mine in the audience). After pushing people around and insulting them – and maybe to reaffirm that karma is alive and well – the two separate and independent groups of mean and awful people apparently converged with one another mid-concert at front row center to direct their bad attitude and energy at one another rather than fans who turned out to have genuine fun in a peaceful and happy environment. According to my friend it turned into pushing and hair pulling and fighting between the two awful pairings, and security promptly carried them away. My wife and I were there at the start of it as I was doing photography for my review, but we bailed after I shot my first three songs just to get away from those people. Even Simon Le Bon got down on his knees in front at one point and pleaded (I’m paraphrasing but made a note at the time so pretty sure this is an exact quote), “Let’s act like normal, respectable people…” Thank you, Mr. Le Bon – my thoughts exactly! I feel bad that these people can’t even respect the band, who I’m sure were distracted from their performance with the unnecessary madness unfolding right in front of them.
I was standing at the back corner of the GA pit at that point (which was an awesome view – now I know for future shows) and saw how quickly security resolved the situation and ejected the handful of bad players in the crowd – super impressive! Kudos to the venue staff for removing them from the crowd quickly and professionally.
In any event, I’m really a big fan of the venue and I hope to continue to cover shows there into the future – I highly recommend you give it a try and check it out. Coupled with Cargo at the Whitney Peak Hotel (which is comparatively tiny but newly renovated and very nice and high end as well), Reno has in the past year come around to be an awesome destination city for live music and concerts.
The New Album: Paper Gods
It’s rare that I do the ‘track by track’ album review treatment within the context of a concert review, but Duran Duran and their Paper Gods certainly warrants it, and I know it will rank high in my ‘end of the year’ Top 10 Albums… so by sharing my thoughts now, I save myself a little work later around the holidays…
The album cover art itself is a bit puzzling at first glance, but it is in fact a kind of puzzle… designed by Alex Israel, it has what appear to be stickers that represent iconic images from the band’s history – the telephone and cap from “The Chauffeur”, the lips from Rio, a champagne glass from “Girls on Film”, the tiger from Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the ice cream cone from “Perfect Day”… again, the band is self-reflective and celebrates the iconography that they have created over the years.
Duran Duran is one of a handful of bands who I’ve been with for a long time wherein I don’t “worry” about a new album coming… with so many favorite artists, they can never manage to match up (or come close to matching up) to their peak material. Duran Duran are one of the few bands I can think of who have consistently released stellar work across decades with no “hiccup”. Somehow, they always seem to kill it, and with Paper Gods, I think they’ve recorded songs truly on par with their best work. It’s phenomenal, start to finish.
This work definitely takes them on an electronic path, with not much happening acoustically apart from some well-place string arrangements on a few of the tracks. But there is a finely crafted framework holding it all together and giving it a direction (and a beginning, middle and end). It’s probably their most contemporary and forward-oriented work since they emerged as pioneers in New Wave at the start of that movement. That New Wave/80s sound has a resurgence with younger, emerging artists today, so it’s kind of like contemporary music is finding Duran Duran as an influence, and Duran Duran is reaching past the present into the future to create something that has a timeless quality but is a challenge to place because it touches on so many musical styles while sounding very fresh and new.
But what a start it is, with the title track kicking things off, and clocking in at a radio unfriendly seven minutes and four seconds. But does anyone even listen to the radio anymore?
“Paper Gods” (the title track) opens with a very church-like atmosphere and vocals, but with all the time on their side it manages to go through a lot of funky changes throughout, with lots of catchy hooks and riffs.
Duran Duran – with it’s brilliant textures of traditional rock and roll instruments and Nick Rhodes’ amazing keyboards and synths – has always served as framework to showcase Simon Le Bon’s distinctive and sublime vocals, and “Paper Gods” illustrates that he sounds better than ever.
Lyrically, Duran Duran has always struck me as a band that emphasizes what sounds good and is cool over really deep meaning (with some exceptions, like “Ordinary World”), but I think with Paper Gods that they have matured into having more substance and thought behind the words, and maybe even an adjusted world view (with “Paper Gods” serving as a sort of push back to their own “Rio”).
Like much of their most popular works, “Paper Gods” is an anthem-based song, and the second track, “Last Night in the City” with Kiesza on vocals, is even more so (and much, much faster moving). Out of context from the artist, “Last Night in the City” is as contemporary as anything coming from newer artists today, and underscores how that New Wave 80s sound is finding new life with newer, younger voices in music today, as things cycle back around. “Last Night in the City” somehow fuses it all together and makes those genre and generational walls come crashing down.
Duran Duran’s songs have always benefited from some female vocals here and there, and “Last Night in the City” is the perfect track on the album for this emphasis.
This uplifting, fast, catchy, vocal-driven music has always been my favorite style, and Duran Duran do it perfectly with “Last Night in the City” – it makes you want to jump in your car, roll down the windows, and drive fast – a jubilant escape from whatever might be the antithesis of this impulse.
The one-two punch of the first two tracks should really be cemented in the archives of Duran Duran’s catalog as among their best work.
“You Kill Me with Silence” slows things back down a bit, and is all about the beat and pacing. It illustrates that Duran Duran have not given up on the album format, and know how to create a front to back play through experience for the listener that makes the whole more than the sum of it’s part – the album is a musical journey. Tonally, this one is more like the classic “The Chauffer”, spinning things is a different musical direction. Fantastic song.
“Pressure Off” (featuring Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers) was the first preview of this new work and direction, serving as the first single released back in June. The collaboration with Nile Rodgers (who worked on “Wild Boys”, the Notorious album, and produced All You Need Is Now) definitely brings back the funk, a style that is always with Duran Duran but has had a greater emphasis with different eras and songs over the year. Nile Rodgers is a genius, so mixed with Duran Duran it makes for a potent cocktail. Again, this one ranks among their all-time best songs.
“Face for Today” sounds like a very different Duran Duran to me. With first listen, it actually reminded me a little of Liberty in tone, with modern day technology and production.
“Dancephobia” features Lindsay Lohan, and is probably the most “throw back” of the group in terms of it’s sound, with very disco-like underpinnings and a more lo-fi production, which keeps things interesting in the flow of the album.
“What Are the Chances?” (featuring John Frusciante) is a stripped down, slowed down piece that reminds us of how beautifully Simon Le Bon can weave together catchy vocals where it all feels like a sublime chorus. Such a gift, and it’s all augmented with softer sounds and strings.
“Sunset Garage” is another one that doesn’t really sound like anything that’s come before, moving into a bit of a different sound but of course recognizable as Duran Duran by Simon’s voice.
“Change the Skyline” (featuring Jonas Bjerre) is immediately identifiable as a Nile Rodgers-produced song by the funky bass – it starts out feeling like it might be a bookend to the anthemic and jumping “Last Night in the City”, but the beat is a bit misleading, as it goes in an unexpected direction that is fast but maybe a bit more somber.
“Butterfly” comes across as signature sexy Duran Duran, pulling from both their 80s and 90s era sounds, maybe most like Liberty. But I’m a huge fan of Liberty, so maybe I’m just hearing what I want to hear. This is another one where some female vocals in the chorus pays big dividends. Love this one.
“Only in Dreams” slows things down again, but only for moments, as the song goes through some changes, including some funk (Nile Rodgers again).
The album proper closes out with a proper slow song, “The Universe Alone”, bringing back some strings, funky guitar riffs, a steady beat, and the many gifts of Simon Le Bon, ending on tech glitches and a churchy blended chorus.
I purchased my album on iTunes, which features three bonus tracks…
“Planet Roaring” is one of the faster songs with a techno framework and fast beats, “Valentine Stones” has an even heavy beat but keeps with the electronic framework with more of an emphasis on the trippy guitar riffs, while “Northern Lights” features some “Hungry Like The Wolf” heavy breathing, but it sounds more like someone being chased by something otherworldly… more heavy beats and synths and obscured vocals make for one of Duran Duran’s more experimental approaches to a song, which works itself out to more of one of their signature songs after going through some changes, but it’s almost like a megamix of three different songs, yet it all works.
There is also a Target Exclusive album with two different bonus tracks – “On Evil Beach” and “Cinderella Ride”, but I haven’t picked up that version yet.
- Jack Patterson (bass guitar, keyboard, vocals and piano)
- Luke Patterson (percussion)
- Grace Chatto (cello, vocals)
- Neil Milan Amin-Smith (violin, piano)
- Elisabeth Troy (lead vocals)
Clean Bandit was founded in England in 2009. They released their debut single “A+E” in 2012, and their debut album New Eyes, was released in the UK last year. An electronic group, they won a Grammy Award this year for “Best Dance Recording” for their song, “Rather Be”.
I didn’t have time to preview their work before the show, so it was all completely fresh for me. As such, I found the music to be instantly accessible, and I imagine the rest of the audience did as well, as they were received as you might expect the headliner to be… the Duran Duran fans were totally into them, jumping and dancing around and following the cues of the band to participate.
Elisabeth Troy – their touring vocalist – up front and center on lead vocals has incredible stage presence and charisma, and did a fantastic job bringing the entire place to life and to their feet. But each of the members seem to have a lot of different roles throughout, making for an interesting show with a lot of variety and surprises. The band seemed to be having as much fun as the crowd, and they seemed to be an excellent choice by the band to get things going and get people moving.
Below is a photo of their setlist…
- Real Love
- Come Over
- Dust Clears Show Me Love
- Rather Be
Below are some photos of Clean Bandit performing on stage (click any image to open a virtual lightroom with higher resolution versions of each photo):
- 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)
- Jessie Wagner (Backing Vocals)
As explained in my prior concert reviews for the band (see O2 in London in 2011 and Mountain Winery in Saratoga in 2012), 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. While the artists in that era that had the most longevity and staying power were individuals (or individuals with bands with the front person being the identity of the band), Duran Duran was really a proper “band”, and not just the Simon Le Bon show. And they seemed to make their way as a real band with all members having a prominent role within it, continuing still today, which is remarkable.
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 were very innovative in taking advantage of the medium to help spread awareness of their work. The band 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 they were also 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”)… a match made in heaven! Most artists who do the James Bond theme song thing do it and then pretend like it doesn’t exist in their catalog – Duran Duran always keep their Bond song in their setlist rotation, tour to tour, as it is such a perfect fit for the persona of the band.
When I was growing up (I was born in 1973), the second cassette tape I ever bought on my own (the first being Michael Jackson’s Thriller) was Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger, which came out in 1983, so I was about 10 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 mine). I have fond memories of playing that cassette over and over, and just could not get enough of their music. I hear that album and it puts me back to grammar school, sitting on the swing that my grandpa built in our backyard, and playing that album, front to back, over and over on my little boom box.
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).
Their last release prior to Paper Gods was All You Need Is Now which came out in 2011 and proved to be a huge hit with critics and fans alike. However, none of the songs from All You Need Is Now are in rotation this time around.
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 Bon, 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 and you can hear little touches with what he does to add his own signature. Simon Willescroft of course adds that fundamental sax sound to certain Duran Duran songs and also supports on percussion. Roger Taylor really blew me away with his work on drums, particularly some of the new material for which he employed electric drumpads. As always, John Taylor is the man on bass. I totally love Anna Ross and her voice and presence on stage, and she injects that sultry feminine element that their work calls for. They actually have two female vocalists touring this time around, and Jessie Wagner is stellar as well – the pair add so much to the music with their vocals, I can’t imagine a tour without them.
With this current show and tour, as with last time around, the band comes out onto the stage amid shadows, and lights come on first in backlit silhouette and then full on in smokey colors and flashing strobes. As always, the lighting technicians do a phenomenal job (as a photographer I’m even more aware of lighting, and when it’s great, it adds tremendously to the show, and Duran Duran always have killer lighting at their shows).
They opened with the title track from Paper Gods, and the new album got some good play throughout, as they also performed “Last Night in the City”, “What Are the Chances?”, “Pressure Off”, and “Danceophobia”, so five tracks in total of new material included in the total of eighteen songs played (“White Lines” was also on the setlist at the start of the encore was ultimately not played).
Below is a photo of Simon’s setlist from the stage:
Below is the set list for the Duran Duran concert at Grand Sierra Resort (I put the source album and year in brackets just because it interests me to have a top down view of what eras they are choosing songs from)…
- Paper Gods [Paper Gods, 2015]
- Hungry Like the Wolf [Rio, 1982]
- A View to a Kill [A View to a Kill, 1985]
- The Reflex [Seven and the Ragged Tiger, 1984]
- Come Undone [The Wedding Album, 1993]
- Last Night in the City [Paper Gods, 2015]
- What Are the Chances? [Paper Gods, 2015]
- Notorious [Notorious, 1986]
- Pressure Off [Paper Gods, 2015]
- Planet Earth [Duran Duran, 1981]
- Ordinary World [The Wedding Album, 1993]
- (Reach Up for the) Sunrise [Astronaut, 2004]
- The Wild Boys [Arena, 1984]
- Danceophobia [Paper Gods, 2015]
- Too Much Information [The Wedding Album, 1993]
- Girls on Film [Duran Duran, 1981]
- Save a Prayer [Rio, 1982]
- Rio [Rio, 1982]
Obviously, Rio is at the heart of their catalog, with three songs in rotation coming from that 1982 album. The oldest songs on the list, “Planet Earth” and “Girls on Film”, came from their 1981 eponymous release. Other 80s releases include “The Reflex”, “The Wild Boys”, “A View to a Kill” and “Notorious” (from 1984’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger, 1984’s Arena, 1985’s A View to a Kill, and 1986’s Notorious respectively), making up just one third of the concert. “Come Undone”, “Ordinary World”, and “Too Much Information” are the only 90s era tracks, all from The Wedding Album which came out in 1993. The only song played from the past two decades, apart from the newly released Paper Gods songs, was “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise”.
Obviously, it is a good problem to have, with so many hits and songs beloved by fans though only being able to scratch the surface with a live show. What was played from the back catalog is pretty much expected, so it doesn’t leave room for much play there, unless the band starts doing sprawling, four hour long sets like The Cure (and who else besides The Cure does those?).
It got me thinking though… if Duran Duran truly will be taking this tour out for a year and a half, in a perfect world it would be awesome if they did what GROUPLOVE did a few years ago with their “Seasaw Tour” and did two dates per city, back-to-back, one electric and one acoustic, giving them the ability to double the length of the setlist to around 36 songs. But, alas, I am dreaming…
Artists are supposed to satisfy, and yet keep us coming back wanting more, and I’m sure Duran Duran accomplished that with the fans in attendance on Friday night. There was a nice flow with the material, and great pacing with the music, song to song. The new tracks fit in nicely, and they always rework the arrangements a bit with the familiar material to keep it fresh. The only criticism I have is that the last two tracks in the main set (“Too Much Information” and “Girls on Film”) were drowned out with too much low frequency – everything else was a bit lost behind the beats. Other than that quibble, everything was stellar in terms of the arrangements and quality of the audio – an extremely rare “no earplugs” show for me.
All of the players had great energy on stage and brought a lot of joy with them, which they seemed to feed back into the crowd.
It was awesome to see them all on stage, looking and sounding better than ever, fueled with their new music. They are natural performers, and Nick Rhodes is there to orchestrate the whole thing from behind his keyboards and synthesizers. He really always seems to appear to be having the most fun of all.
Below are some photos of Duran Duran performing on stage (click any image to open a virtual lightroom with higher resolution versions of each photo):