While two young women standing in front of me scream in each other’s ear as opening band The Leaves, who present themselves as a very serious Coldplay, meander through their set, I crane my neck around to see if there’s anyone “in uniform” – hair mousse, shoulders pads, maybe even some blue eyeshadow. I hadn’t seen any on the way in, walking down the road to Egilshöll past car after car parked on the grass, while the parking lot itself was half-empty. But there are a few in uniform in the stadium now, about four or five people back from me: guys my age, eye shadow in their crow’s feet, their white, double-breasted sports coats too small for them now. And they’re very drunk.
The Leaves finish; Fatboy Slim is piped in to deaden the enthusiasm and cleanse the palate, and the lights cut off. Five silhouettes walk slowly onto the stage to line up shoulder to shoulder at centre stage while the crowd bellows and screams. They stand there for a few seconds, facing the crowd, and then, one by one, walk to their respective instruments until only singer Simon LeBon remains. Then, a crushing surge forward of people that comes on so suddenly it forces some air out of my lungs. I turn my head around and see a large, drunk man trying to push his way through this solid mass of people, holding a Duran Duran coffeetable book above his head, still in the plastic, his mascara running.
“Reach Out for the Sunrise” begins, I turn my head back to the stage and begin jumping around and yelling, which I would be doing for much of the concert.
Simon LeBon still conveys the same attitude as he did twenty-eight years ago, when the band was formed: an obvious narcissism, a desire to be adored, a strong voice, and a great deal of energy – a born lead singer. The others in the band just look like they’re genuinely having fun. Through one rollicking tune after another, most of them selected from the first three albums, Duran Duran work the crowd into a frenzy. Not four songs in, I see someone being pulled over the security fence, limp in a bouncer’s arms.
And then Simon LeBon addresses the crowd, as the opening keyboard arrangement to “Save a Prayer” begins:
“I want to see lights, matches, cellular phones. Anything that shines. This is Save a Prayer . . . and you’re going to sing!”
A curveball. No one around me sees this coming. “Save a Prayer” is a classic – does he really want us to sing it for him? The crowd looks unsure, maybe hoping that LeBon was kidding, but no – the song begins, and the crowd is to sing. I can’t hear anyone singing it, but there are people around me going, “Da da da da-da da daaa . . .” LeBon looks at the crowd with a mix of uncertainty and disappointment. John Taylor, the bass player, is laughing so hard he’s doubling over. LeBon relents, the crowd having barely hummed their way into the third line, and he begins singing again. To be fair to the crowd, Duran Duran hadn’t been to Iceland in 25 years. This was the first time most of these 12,000 people have ever seen Duran Duran, even though in the 80s their fans were a formidable foe to the then predominant Wham! faction. We paid our 10,000 ISK to be here – if we wanted to hear each other sing “Save a Prayer,” we’d go to just about any bar in Reykjavík around closing time.
While the rest of the band is undaunted, in fact, amused by the “Save a Prayer” incident, LeBon begins to look worried. This is a man who lives to entertain people, who has devoted his life to it. He wants us to have a good time. He keeps singing well, but he maintains a maybe I’m in the wrong place look in his eyes for the next couple of songs.
Not until the band starts playing “Sound of Thunder” – a great song from their first album that never made it as a single where I’m from – does LeBon shake off his they-didn’t-sing-along shock and bound into the song’s wild, careening rhythm with total abandon, the rest of the band following suit. This energy spills over into the next song, and the next. They segue into Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher” in the middle of playing “Notorious” and actually sound convincing. As for the crowd, a pack of guys surge forward and nearly kill us all. Four people are pulled over the security fence within a few seconds of each other. The crowd swallows the space the withdrawn leave behind and the drunken surgers are a few steps closer. In other words, those not unconscious are having a great time.
The band finishes the set with “The Reflex”, but no one wants them to leave. The crowd is screaming for more, pounding their feet. A minute or so goes by, and then Duran Duran returns for the encore – which would prove to be the best performance of the concert, despite the presence of New Moon on Monday Man.
While the band puts everything they have into burning through these last few songs, there’s a man behind me who obviously came to hear just one song, “New Moon on Monday,” which he screams over and over, even as the band is playing other tunes. He has both hands raised towards the band, his right arm at times pushing my head into my chest. I manage one clean elbow shot into his gut and his hands go down. To my left, one of the older eyeshadowed men is on the shoulders of another. The man on the other’s shoulders opens his double-breasted jacket and lifts his T-shirt, showing the band his tits. LeBon actually laughs while singing when he sees this.
In the middle of “Girls On Film,” LeBon conducts a band member introduction, but Duran Duran are not soloists. Keyboardist Nick Rhodes merely shrugs his shoulders after his own attempt at a solo. LeBon, saving himself for last, takes a girl from the audience and brings her up onstage. She looks completely at ease to be there.
“Tell them,” LeBon tells her, pointing at the crowd, “that I’m the sexiest, best dressed, most charming, most talented singer in the world.”
She does exactly that, translating the whole statement, word for word, and LeBon is thrilled. He sings the remainder of “Girls on Film,” and then announces that he “wants to take a swim” as he climbs down off the stage. He climbs over the security fence, directly ahead of me, and is immediately carried aloft. There’s only one logistical problem with this idea: LeBon is being carried in the direction of a pack of barely-teens who are significantly shorter than everyone else. LeBon passes right over me and, reaching the barely-teens, is nearly dropped on the floor. As he falls, I hook his leg with the crook of my elbow. Three larger men behind the barely-teens take hold of the rest of LeBon and lift him up, sending him back. As he passes back towards the stage, a girl next to me reaches up, grabs the waistband of his pants and hangs on for dear life, determined to take those pants down. But this guy’s learned long ago – wear durable pants and a strong belt. He’s not going to crowd surf in a Puma tracksuit. The girl relents at last, and LeBon is carried back to the bouncers.
Back on stage, Duran Duran finish with an extended version of “Rio.” New Moon on Monday Man is still screaming for his song, but the rest of the crowd is a leaping, shrieking mass. As the band ends the song by playing the four chords that comprise the chorus of “Rio”, again and again, LeBon stands at the front of centre stage, arms spread, soaking up the adoration. He looks happy and relieved. He’s the last one to leave the stage in fact, unwilling to let go of the crowd. The crowd remains a while longer, too, even though they know there’ll be no second encore.