Duran Duran proves they are still “cool” at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester
“Apparently Duran Duran is cool again…but we always though we are cool” said Simon Lebon – the suave and charismatic frontman of Duran Duran when he first addressed the audience at the Capitol Theatre at Port Chester (NY) on August 1. Hot on the heels of a new global recording contract with Warner Music, the release of their best single in almost 22 years titled “Pressure Off“, and an upcoming album titled “Paper Gods” (slated for release in September 2015), Duran Duran is back on tour to remind us of why they are a potent force to be reckoned with almost 35 years since their rise to global stardom. I had the opportunity to watch them on August 1 at the Capitol Theatre at Port Chester. Needless to say, the evening felt like quite a privilege.
The Capitol Theatre is a historic theatre venue within close proximity to the Port Chester train stop. It is hard to believe that it was once a movie theater which was then renovated to accommodate performances in 1970. To the casual live music fan, it might seem like an odd choice for a concert but it seems consistent with Duran Duran bass player John Taylor’s expressed preference for intimate venues (something he mentioned in an interview for the organizers of “Bestival 2015”).
The show’s opening act was Penguin Prison (aka Chris Glover) – a one-man electropop act. In the last few years, he has also gained recognition among pop music connoisseurs for his remixes. In theory, he was probably a good choice for an opening act for Duran Duran. Songs like “The Worse it gets“, “Golden train“, and “Fair Warning” (from his debut album titled “Penguin Prison“) are an ode to the electronic and synth-driven style that dominated a lot of popular music in the 80s. Unfortunately, Penguin Prison opted for a “DJ set” approach -which featured mixes of popular 80s songs such as “I wanna be your lover” by Prince and “All night long” by Lionel Richie with his own songs mixed in. He employed an approach better suited for a house music concert than for an audience that either grew up in or had a great admiration for the New Wave era. The result of this approach was one in which his entire set sounded like one long track – which is a shame since Penguin Prison is actually a very credible artist. In my humble opinion, he should have performed the original studio versions of his music. The songs would have made a perfect appetizer for the evening’s sonic main course (i.e. Duran Duran).
At around 9pm, the band entered the stage as they were greeted by a screaming audience. Lead singer Simon Lebon marched with a certain swagger all the way to front of the stage and stared at the audience with an intense look without even a hint of a smile. Part of his charm has always been his dramatic quirkiness – which has translated to his persona as well as the fantastic music he writes for Duran Duran. The band kicked off with “Wild Boys” – which today, sounds like a reference to what they used to be when they first took the world by storm. The hits rolled for around ninety minutes with not a single moment of “filler”. The setlist revisited the most commercially successful endeavors from their legacy – including songs from albums such as “Rio“, “Notorious“, “The Wedding Album“, “All You Need Is now” and “Astronaut“. That being said, the show definitely had its share of defining highlights. They were as follows:
a. “Election Day“: This just might have been one of my favorite moments of the evening. It was not a surprise by any stretch for me since I had clandestinely listened to the band’s sound-check at the theatre and this was the song they were rehearsing. For those that are well versed with Duran Duran history, they would know that this song is technically not a Duran Duran song. In the mid-80s, the band had splintered into two factions – Arcadia (which included the band’s keyboard player Nick Rhodes and Simon Lebon) and Power Station (which featured bass player John Taylor and the band guitarist Andy Taylor). Interestingly enough, drummer Roger Taylor featured on drums on albums by both bands. Nick Rhodes described this endeavor for all people concerned in the band as being “commercial suicide” (which we think is odd since both efforts were quite successful and the band had a US #1 hit with “View to a kill” soon after they regrouped). Needless to the say,the performance was dynamic and featured a long goosebump-inducing saxophone segment at the end. It suggested that the band was acknowledging a key chapter of the their history – however unsavory they thought it might have been in retrospect.
b. “Girl Panic“: In 1981, thanks to the launch of MTV, a generation of music video stars had been taken its birth. The faces of this generation were the band members of Duran Duran. Gorgeous women, style, and exotic locations were the key ingredients of their music videos and Duran Duran had created the visual manifesto for over-the-top escapist decadence in the early 80s. The collapse of MTV as the primary avenue for music exposure to the world over the past decade and a half has made the return-on-investment on music videos (especially expensive ones of the sort that Duran Duran was known for) incredibly low. Fortunately, on “Girl Panic“, Duran Duran did let themselves go and made a video that was true to their visual legacy. The video featured appearances by supermodels such as Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Yasmin Lebon. This video formed the visual backdrop for a stellar performance of the track. Watching the visuals and the band performing the song simultaneously was a very exhilarating moment.
c. “Ordinary World“: Over the years, the live rendition of this beautiful lead single from the “Wedding Album” has always sounded better than the studio version of this song. It is also the song that is bound to convince skeptics of Simon Lebon’s immense vocal competence. Apparently, time has not eroded Simon Lebon’s ability to deliver something vocally stunning especially when it comes to this song.
d. “Pressure Off“: Over a month ago, when we reviewed “Pressure Off” – the lead single off the upcoming album “Paper Gods“, we described it as the sonic sequel to “Notorious” wherein the common thread between the two songs is production maestro Nile Rodgers. Rodgers has successfully brought the band’s inner funk to the surface on both these tracks. Hence, it was great to hear them being played one after the other in the show. “Pressure Off” successfully marries the band’s musical past as well as a sound that is fresh, modern, and relevant – and that marriage translated incredibly well in a live environment.
Like any concert, this one did have its share of potential improvement areas. In the spirit of providing a balanced review, I believe that these should be captured.
First, while fans love to hear the songs they are familiar with, it would have been nice for the band to give us little more of a showcase of the new album “Paper Gods” by performing at least two other songs (besides “Pressure Off“) that have not been heard before off that album. If anything, it would have been a small reward for fan loyalty that has lasted over 30 years.
The second improvement area was the length of the gap between the primary setlist and the encore. The gap was incredibly long. The theatre’s staff had actually started shutting off various stage production elements forcing people to believe that “Rio” was the last song that the band was to perform. The audience responded with screams of “we want more”. Closer to the stage, there were murmurs of “What? No performance of The Reflex? I don’t think these guys are getting back on stage”. I am still not sure if the band had actually intended to return to the stage. The crowd refused to leave. Fortunately, their enthusiasm was rewarded. The band returned to the stage to perform “Careless Memories” and “Girls on Film“.
The third improvement area is more of a suggestion to the band. Duran Duran has a huge catalog and while it is true that they did lose commercial momentum during a few periods in their career, those lulls were not because of the music being sub-par. We applaud the band for celebrating elements of their history (i.e. the performances of “Election Day” and “White Lines“) that marked commercial dips, but we would like to see them do more of this more often. They have earned the right to do so. It would be great to hear songs such as “Serious” (from the “Liberty” album), “Falling Down” (from “Red Carpet Massacre“) and “Out of my mind” (from “Medazzaland“). After all, concerts are more than simply a showcase for the popular or the overplayed. I believe they should also sow the seeds for a journey of discovery for the members of the audience -something that has them digging deeper into the back-catalog of the artist or band. The Duran Duran catalog has its share of gems that never seem to see the light of day at concerts. We strongly suggest that the band revisit them in a concert setting.
Despite some of the shortcomings, it goes without saying that the concert at the Capitol Theatre was beyond fantastic. The show ended with Simon Lebon saying “we are Duran Duran and were designed to make you party!”. Interestingly enough, the band doesn’t sound out of place saying something like that despite all the members being in their early to mid-50s. To younger fans, Duran Duran offers hope and optimism that the 50s can be a vibrant and dynamic phase of life. Duran Duran created the aspirations for decadence back in the 80s. Today, through their brilliant stage performance, they are creating aspirations around being cool in mid-life. It is my sincere hope that the band continues doing what they do for a very long time.
For those that missed the show, or are curious about, here is a short photo album capturing the concert’s highlights (Feel free to click on the photos to navigate through the album via Facebook):
STAR RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
We are an American internet radio station that broadcasts worldwide. The station features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. The music of Duran Duran (both old and new) is a regular staple on our radio station. Currently, “Pressure Off” by Duran Duran is getting 5 plays per day on our station. We also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s. Noteworthy examples include Tears For Fears, a-ha, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.
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