It’s been a while since Duran Duran last played Brighton, four years in fact. Last time, they put on a memorable show at the same venue. Now they were back, supporting their 14th studio album Paper Gods. Even more than its predecessor All You Need Is Now, it marks a return to form for the band, a vibrant, fresh sound invigorated by collaborators such as Nile Rodgers, Janelle Monáe and Mr Hudson. No wonder it’s been their highest charting record in 22 years.
This was the second date of their UK tour and the six trucks parked at the back of venue singled their intent to make a big impression. The addition of Seal, a Grammy Award-winner, as special guest also raised the bar. This had all the makings of a great gig. And so it proved.
Despite a microphone failure that meant he had to restart his first song, Seal did a great job of warming up the crowd, sounding and looking no different than he did back in the day. Those at the front got the up close and personal treatment when he came down to the barrier and sang inches away from them. For the predominantly female audience, it was then just a case of waiting for the arrival of their idols. Many at the front had hand-written signs, some were even holding illuminated Duran Duran logos. That things were about to get underway were signalled with that old 80s throwback dry ice wafting across the stage.
Shadowy figures could be seen taking their positions, the opening notes of the title track Paper Gods began to play and with four — yes four — spotlights on him, Simon Le Bon appeared. A tad ironic you might say, as the song he was singing is all about the hollowness of beauty. Remember, when Duran Duran first found fame, it was as much for their look and fashion sense as their music. With everyone else outfitted in regulation black, Le Bon was wearing a black and white leather jacket and white trousers. It was a bold look-at-me statement that instantly reminded me of Lewis Hamilton’s new found — and somewhat questionable — sartorial direction.
As on the record, Paper Gods is a bold opener, a slow, atmospheric anthem that shows Duran Duran willing to explore a new musical direction. It also proved that Le Bon’s voice is still as good as it was back in the 80s when the band enjoyed their biggest commercial success.
The sound in the venue was also impressive — indeed it has been for the last few gigs I’ve been to at the Centre — a throbbing assault on the senses, powered by some impressive electro drumming from Roger Taylor playing a half acoustic, half electronic, hybrid kit. Perhaps the least celebrated original member, he’s the one who makes the biggest impact on how their live sound differs from the records. John Taylor’s Peavey Cirrus bass provided the oomph and signature funky rhythms, while Nick Rhodes added shimmering textures to the wall of sound, which was bolstered even more with the addition of sax player, Simon Willescroft.
Equally impressive were the two backing singers, Jessie Wagner and Annie Ross, who did much more than just sing back up. Full of energy, much of the time they were front of stage and on many of the new songs, sharing lead vocals. Perhaps not surprisingly, the band looked like they were really enjoying themselves. There were lots of smiles both to each other as well as to the audience.
Of course, when you’ve been going as long as Duran Duran has, the biggest challenge when you play live is what songs to include and what to leave out. Overall, I think they got the balance right between songs from the new record, the hits from the past and even throwing in one or two lesser known album tracks.
With such a strong new album and a back catalogue any band would be envious of, there were no shortage of great songs in the 21-song set. Three of their biggest hits came in the first four songs: Wild Boys, Hungry Like The Wolf and A View To A Kill. Of the rest, my two personal favourites of the night were the sublime soaring ballad What Are The Chances? from the new record and the infectious Notorious from 1986.
It’s interesting to note that Notorious was their 14th single and their first following the departure of guitarist Andy Taylor (who didn’t return) and Roger Taylor (who did). And like so many of their hits, it’s one of those songs that really stands the test of time. Arguably, the liveliest of those was the night’s only cover, White Lines (Don’t Do It) taken from their now 20-year-old covers album Thank You.
In terms of production, despite all the trucks, it was the now almost commonplace full width LED screen behind the band and a load of moving lights. Much of the imagery on the screens were moving graphic shapes, but compared with the wonderful creativity that I witnessed recently from both the 1975 and Chvrches, it felt just a little ordinary.
More than anything, like their latest record, this was a performance that showed that even after 37 continuous years together, Duran Duran still have the swagger and are still as relevant today as they were back in their New Romantic days. Judging by the fans devotion, it’s a love affair that’s going to continue for quite a while to come. And — as they sing on Notorious — it’s why they keep doing it again and again.
Words: Gary Marlowe
Photo: Images Out Of The Ordinary
Follow Duran Duran at @duranduran
Duran Duran’s latest album Paper Gods is out now