First up, credit due to Druan Duran for their taste in support artist on this original line-up comeback UK tour. Goldfrapp and Wembley Arena. Not perhaps the ideal match between artist and venue, yet Alison, Will and co. impressed with their ability to significantly fill what was still a largely unpopulated several acres of warehouse space. The acoustics definitely weren't suited to Goldfrapp's warm sound, especially given that most of the set was given over to promoting latest album Black Cherry rather than the more grandiose Felt Mountain. Being a bigger fan of the latter, whilst this set didn't excite like previous nights spent with Goldfrapp, it did provide a solid warm up act in what must have been a daunting supporting role.
My memories of Duran Duran are indelibly inked with visions of my then girlfriend's bedroom which, like thousands of others at the time, had a poster of bassist John Taylor on the ceiling... above the bed. Twenty years later (boy it feels strange writing that) the effect of this memory has long since faded and my views on Duran Duran can be somewhat more objective, less tainted. At the time, I was a fan of their first new romantic album Planet Earth, but the outright poppiness of Rio whilst admirable for its ruthlessly infectious hooks and melodies, was just too mainstream. So my objective in attending tonight was more to see just what I would make of it all two decades on. To see if Simon Le Bon's voice was finally beyond all hope. To see if, beyond all probability, they would play Secret October (my favourite DD song of all time). To see if Duran Duran would be a sad cabaret tribute to their former selves or if there was still a spark of vitality there.
The answers were telegraphed in impressive style. The lights in Wembley Arena dropped, plunging the cheering hordes into darkness. For several minutes there was a low, bass drone noise. Nothing else. For several minutes. This wasn't pop. This was definitely art. In a carefully choreographed manner, the five original members of one of the most successful British bands of all time, each dressed from head to toe in black, slowly walked to the front of the stage. They stood, side by side, hands behind their backs. Not smiling, not waving, not speaking. As if proving that their fan base has always been beyond the obvious screaming, fawning females, the audience, far from finding this unexpected presentation alienating or pretentious, understood entirely and went berzerk.
The point having been well and truly made, as the opening moments of new track Sunrise kicked in on the backing track, the guys smiled, waved and each jogged back to their respective stage positions, took up their instruments and began what was to be a night of the highest quality of musical entertainment. The eclectic set spanned their entire career and was not simply a safe run through the hits. Indeed, as with the opener, material from their next album due in the autumn was thrown in very early (a little too early in the case of Sunrise if truth be told) but it didn't really hold a candle to the early material. Not being a hardcore Durannie, there were several songs from their mid-career wilderness years that I'd never heard. Again, good but not classic.
Their cover of White Lines was an unexpected inclusion, the memorable Ordinary World proves that a great chorus can save an otherwise middling song, and whilst I didn't get my Secret October we were treated to a terrific, extended rendition of The Chauffeur - complete with remixed saucy video projected onto the huge screen behind our boys. Indeed, the presentation was generally superb. Although not compelled to provide visuals for very track, those that were accompanied by projections (at least half the set) were truly impressive. Nick Rhodes always said Duran Duran was meant to be more art pop than just pop, and tonight evidenced that crucial distinction.
The video for Careless Memories was a mind-blowingly violent piece of anime that depicted the five band members battling deadly ninjas and city-stomping monsters. The surreal sight of copious amount of blood being frequently sprayed as the band played on. Simon Le Bon's two red stripes on the sides of his black trousers was a significant gesture. It perfectly summed up the position in which this band now stands. They know how they got there, are happy to celebrate that and not try, like so many others, to bury what put them where they are now. Songs that hitherto and just been solid repertoire fillers were transformed into exciting and compelling thrillfests. Most remarkable was an exhilarating rendition of Union of the Snake a song that previously held little sway over me.
When distant history looks back on Duran Duran I expect it to acknowledge their part but conclude that they were never really earth shattering in their musical contribution to the world. However, their ability to write brilliant pop songs with an occasional leftfield edge and some absolutely cracking choruses is unlikely to fade. More importantly, the impact on their fans will undoubtedly stay with them forever.