If someone in Glasgow asks you if you are a Celtics or Rangers fan, simply stating that you don’t follow football won’t cut it. It will inevitably be followed by: “but if you did, which team would you support?”
Much the same logic applied to pre-teens in the mid-80s. You might not like either Wham or Duran Duran, but you still had to have a preference. Mine was Duran. They looked slightly cooler with their sullen frowns as compared to the Colgate smiles of their rivals. I was, as it turns out, wrong. George Michael, after ditching Ridgely, managed to make better albums than both with the seminal Faith, embracing getting Older, coming out, taking the piss out of police surveillance with “Outside,” and even becoming one of the most fervent early critics of the Iraq War with “Shoot the Dog.” Duran never managed to move beyond their mid-80s heyday. Therefore, all reviews of them will inevitably begin with reminiscing about those days of fluorescent lights and “sítt að aftan.”
There is not much evidence of cross generational appeal in the audience. These are the very people who were entering their teens 35 years ago, partying like it’s 1984, except we have beer now. It’s fitting that their second, and perhaps last Reykjavik concert is taking place on what would have been George Michael’s 56th birthday. These particular Stones may have outlasted the‘80s Beatles but hardly superseded them.
The Soundtrack to Icelandic Politics
They start the show, rather bravely, with the cut “Paper Gods” from their latest album, before giving the crowd what they truly want with “Wild Boys.” This was the song playing in the background during the coalition forming talks of the 2013 government, from which the PM resigned in 2016 due to the Panama Papers scandal. Wild boys fallen far from glory indeed.
They maintain the pace with “Hungry Like the Wolf.” A secondary debate in those mid-80s was which one was the cutest, with most settling on bassist John Taylor. But by now this is very much the Simon Le Bon show. Taylor will have to settle for being the Duff McKagan of Duran Duran. Interestingly, both bassists played together in the sideman act Neurotic Outsiders alongside Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, with Duff switching to guitar. Nick Rhodes, meanwhile, perhaps the most musically competent, is looking more and more like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future.
The James Bond theme begins, heralding “A View to a Kill,” one of their best. In the video, the singer introduces himself as “Bon, Simon Le Bon,” simultaneously annoying and irresistible. He is still wearing 1980s white and only has a modest paunch to spoil the illusion of being lost in time.
Simon as Dating Coach
After a rather rousing Notorious, the well-aged lothario comes out. “You look good,” he says to a crowd that really needs to hear it. “Do you want some Duran Duran in you,” he continues, before inevitably moving on to: “This song is about penetration,” leading to the equally inevitable conclusion: “Penetration of the soul.” Fine, Simon. We will close our eyes and think of England. But only because it’s you.”
The jacket comes off. The paunch is more pronounced than expected. But who am I to speak? Mine is too, but I am only half his age, probably (I am 42). The set inevitably slips a little in the lull between hits. They have a long history but were only in the really in the limelight for half a decade or so. They don’t have different periods to draw on, which can lead to monotony for all their pop hit flair. “I am glad you brought your best selves,” says Simon to a nonetheless appreciative crowd. In some dark alternative reality, Le Bon is a dating coach.
The Balls Come Out
And then, just as you think they have passed their peak, the house it brought down with ”White Lines,” the Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel song from their underappreciated covers album. Perhaps the subject interests Le Bon more, or perhaps it is just superior songwriting, but this is on a whole other level. There may be Duran cover bands out there these days, but surely no one alive does this half as well.
The trick is sadly not repeated when “Space Oddity” makes a surprise appearance in the middle of “Planet Earth,” reflecting the relative poverty here on display. No, you are not Bowie, Le Bon. None of us are. Only that great big Bowie in the sky is. Set closer is the by now somewhat anachronistic “Girls on Film.” Still, Le Bon always claimed that Duran Duran was the music to dance to during the expected Reagan era nuclear holocaust. Perhaps they can still get some toes moving during a climate catastrophe.
Encores begin with “Save a Prayer” and a surprise “Reflex.” Sadly, rumours of a Wham tribute have proved to be exaggerated. We conclude with “Rio,” and inflatable rubber balls shoot out over the audience. Fine, Simon, we will keep your balls in the air. But only because it’s you.
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