Tuesday, July 12, 2016

These Are Le Bon Times: Duran Duran, Chic Deliver a Really Really Fun Dance Party -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Duran Duran
w/ opening act
Chic featuring Nile Rodgers
Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL
July 8, 2016
(Also performed July 9, 2016)

Duran Duran became hugely popular at a time when, thanks to the burgeoning of MTV, it was almost impossible not know hits like "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Rio," "Is There Something I Should Know?" and "The Reflex."

But for a young teenage boy weaned on The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen--and not popular or unpopular enough in school to be fearless or peerless in my musical tastes--Duran Duran had the misfortune of (as they laughed all the way to the bank):

1) Being massively beloved by shrieking girls, in part for being attactive

2) Getting compared to the Beatles, though more for the high piercing fanatacism than their music

3) Having a sound that was quite danceable

Now, I'm not justifying my youthful aversion, merely copping to it to explain why I've never owned a Duran Duran album nor specifically chosen to listen to any of their songs until recent days. 

But as the years have gone by, I've gradually made a point of exploring, in many cases enjoying and--as opportunities arose--seeing in concert several acts I paid little heed when I was younger.

Many of these are what could loosely be called British New Wave bands of the 1980s: The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Madness, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths--I've only seen the first four live--and finally, Duran Duran.

A couple years ago, my frequent concert companion Paolo mentioned that Duran Duran is excellent live, but especially with him out of town, pavilion tickets pretty pricey at Ravinia--I don't like the lawn for really appreciating an artist, and even those tix weren't cheap--and a busy concert weekend, it took a rather steeply discounted ticket on StubHub for me to buy one just a few days prior to Friday's show.

Adding considerably to the attraction, and to my enjoyment of the evening, was that Chic featuring the great Nile Rodgers was the opening act.

Rodgers helped produce Duran Duran's latest album--2015's Paper Gods--and has done likewise for several other high-profile artists, beyond himself having been in Chic in the late '70s.

I believe bassist Jerry Barnes was the only other longstanding Chicster onstage, but the crew of musicians and singers were clearly quite adept as the band ran through old hits like "Everybody Dance," "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)," "Le Freak" and "Good Times," along with #1 songs Rodgers wrote and/or produced for others. 

These included Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" and "Upside Down," Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," Madonna's "Like a Virgin," Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and, most powerfully, David Bowie's "Let's Dance' which would've drawn even more goosebumps had I not already heard it during Chic's soundcheck.

Their hourlong set had many dancing all the way through, and the rest of us in the back up by the end.

Rodgers, who has always seemed like the epitome of cool, didn't disappoint, and his conveying that five years ago he learned he had cancer and was told to get his affairs in order, but is now cancer free made "Good Times" all the more ebullient at the end of a distressing week in America.

Opening with the title track from Paper Gods and quickly running through early smashes "The Wild Boys" and "Hungry Like the Wolf," Duran Duran was pretty much fantastic right from the start. (See their full setlist at Setlist.fm)

In their late 50s, singer Simon Le Bon and bassist John Taylor were not fat and balding as I heard a (quasi?) fan surmise pre-show, but rather looked as if they could still be taped up inside many a hallway locker, while Roger Taylor played powerful drums.

The third original, unrelated Taylor--guitarist Andy--is no longer with the band (replaced by Dom Brown on this outing), but while keyboardist Nick Rhodes still is, he was absent due to an urgent family matter back in England. (Missing, I believe, his first show since founding the band with John Taylor in 1978.)

His replacement, a woman known as MNDR, seemed to handle his duties quite deftly.

I still can't say I'm entirely smitten by the Duran Duran songbook but--supported by a dazzling light show--they performed the material about as well as I could have hoped, and probably even better than I imagined.

New songs like "Last Night in the City" and "Pressure Off"--on which Rodgers joined the band onstage--sounded terrific amid old hits like "A View to a Kill" and "Notorious" (the latter of which Rodgers originally produced and also accompanied at Ravinia).

Every song was turned into a dazzling affair, and as a David Bowie fanatic I appreciated that in addition to the tribute Rogers had paid, Duran Duran blended their own song "Planet Earth" with "Space Oddity."

Truly phenomenal was the band's live rave-like blast through their 1995 cover of Melle Mel's "White Lines," which also included hints of "Let's Dance."

This was followed by "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise"/"New Moon on Monday," "Girls on Film" and "The Reflex" to close the main set

In the encore of what was about a 100-minute performance, LeBron sent "Save a Prayer" out to his missing bandmate Rhodes before sending everyone home in delirium with a rollicking "Rio."

I imagine if I was a longtime, devout Duran Duran fan--as some nearly hysterical women nearby clearly appeared to be--I might well have loved the show to a full @@@@@ rating; upon leaving I heard some fans say this was the best the band sounded in years.

But as it was, between the concert itself and some pre-show exploration--especially of the album Rio--I came to appreciate Duran Duran far more than I ever have before.

Even though on this night (and seemingly others of the current tour) the band didn't play "Is There Something I Should Know?" they nonetheless answered that question resoundingly in the affirmative.

Here's a clip of the show-closing "Rio" posted to YouTube by trevgreg2:

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