Hard Rock Live, Hollywood
Tuesday, October 11
Better than: Five million times better than watching them at this past year's Ultra.
From the constant virtual flames -- full fires to the tops of lit candles -- Duran Duran was out to conquer the crowd at Hard Rock Live.
Four giant white face-molds used as projection screens on the top of stage greeted the fans. What do we make of them? Sometimes the faces were filled with images of green- and red- or light-blue faces, sometimes they were filled with the faces of the Duran Duran boys singing, sometimes all four faces were filled with the face of the backing vocalist on tour, Ms. Anna Ross. There could be a person's face painted as a demon left on one screen on the back of the stage the whole time, another screen with rampant images of worldly people -- many cultures represented -- alongside a sexy World of Warcraft-esque visual. Couple that with Duran Duran's incredibly seductive numbers and this band is into some freaky, weird shit.
The whole band is posh and hypnotizing and wore matching elegant-with-a-hint-of-spunk outfits. There were eight members onstage: Besides the original lineup of singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, and drummer Roger Taylor -- and Ms. Ross -- there was another percussionist, guitarist Dom Brown, and a saxophone player. From his fancy maroon, shimmery jacket to a light-blue alligator-print, silkish button-down, Le Bon was sort of a theatric goofball with his moves -- but in an absolutely charming way. With his arms bent to each side like a bird, he'd kick his hip out. You could picture being chums with him at home. He sang like an opera singer turned rock star. He could manipulate his voice from high to low and back up again effortlessly. (No better way to witness this than hearing "Ordinary World.")
The crowd was lubed up and ready when "Come Undone" played six songs in. The following songs: "Safe (In the Heat of the Moment), "The Reflex," and "The Man Who Stole a Leopard" were all uptempo, and kept Hard Rock fiercely alive. This is not dance music you typically find in clubs, but it should be (and this is how the '80s should take over the '10s.)
But then, for "The Man Who Stole a Leopard," although the song has a danceable upbeat rhythm, the whole stadium found themselves sitting down. The intensity pouring from frontman Le Bon from this moment was too gripping. When he sang, where was he? At times, close-ups of Le Bon's face showed that his blue eyes stared off into the private lands of his own mind. And during this song, it worked. It was intense trying to figure out where the hell he was. The song ended with a serious clip of a news report saying that they were going to find the man who stole the leopard.
After this, Le Bon tried to lighten the mood by doing a self-deprecating spiel of how he can't mack on women and how he gets dumbstruck when others so easily pull it off. In his rich British accent, he said, "This song is for the dumbstruck, for those like me," then started singing "Girl Panic!" Getting the crowd back hot and heavy again proved to be a challenge. Apparently, everyone here could mack on girls and had no interest in the song. Le Bon wouldn't settle for this, and he jumped up on one of the mini-stage lifts and shot for a sing-along.
This weak moment is worth mentioning only because it stood in stark contrast to the rest of the fluid performance. Nobody had to signal to the crowd to start singing along to "Ordinary World." Everyone jumped up instantly for "Notorious." For "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise," everyone automatically put arms in the air and danced. You get used to being prompted to do these things that when so many are on the same page, it's thrilling. The place went wild for "Wild Boys," making that a climax.
Le Bon's stage movements proved to be plenty of back-and-forth walk-dancing and standing, then shaking his hips -- but only one twirl. He asked us to call our radio stations to have them play the new single ("Leave a Light On" is a slow jam). "You'd be really happy if that's exactly what you do," he said, and then mentioned his mum.
Bassist John Taylor looked incredible onstage with perfect blond hair that had just enough volume. He played even better, with Duran Duran's deep bass lines being the essence of what makes the music so seductive in the first place. Taylor said the last time they played in Hollywood was the summer of 1984. He talked about how they stayed up all night in Coral Gables and: "Now, we stay up all night tweeting." Taylor mentioned Twitter -- and now everyone was using their Twitter. With the hashtag #duranlive, your tweet scrolled down the screen on stage. From where the reviewer was sitting, no actual tweets could be read, but they did flow like lava.
Personal bias: I did not enjoy their performance at Ultra -- or any, for that matter -- this year. Music is not best heard when you're surrounded by neon candy ravers in a druggie monsoon.
The crowd: These people would be Michael Jackson fans. They were living old-school days: A woman wore just a bra-shirt under her jacket with jeans and a gold chain; another wore a vintage acid-washed jean skirt. You wore your vest with a scarf here.
Overheard in the crowd: "How old are you? Do you remember 1982?" "Simon looked like a butterfly."
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Before the Rain
A View to a Kill
All You Need Is Now
Blame the Machines
Safe (In the Heat of the Moment)
The Man Who Stole a Leopard
Leave a Light On
Hungry Like the Wolf (with a snippet of "Relax")
(Reach Up for the) Sunrise