Thursday, April 29, 2004

Duran Duran – Live at the CIA, Cardiff

by Suw on April 29, 2004

What would you expect from five ageing popsters whom many think should have given up the ghost years ago… preferably 20 years ago? A lacklustre performance: short, painful to watch and really a bit pitiful? If that's what you'd automatically expect from the reformed Duran Duran, then you couldn't be further from the truth.
When I went up to London a couple of weeks ago, I saw them play Wembley Arena. I meant to blog about it then, but events moved faster than I did and I couldn't somehow find even a moment to get my impressions down. My main thought at the time was 'wow!', followed rapidly by 'phwoar!' and 'I have to see this again!'.
Luckily for me, Kate, my co-Durannie, had tickets for us to see them in Cardiff too. Bargain!
I've been to a few Duran gigs in recent years. I never got to see them when they were at the height of their popularity in the early 80s. For a start, I didn't like them then, and secondly living where I did in Dorset essentially meant going to a gig was an impossibility.
It wasn't until Notorious came out in 86, after Roger and Andy had left the band and their popularity had plummeted, that I got into them. By then, instead of being all trendy and exactly the sort of people I despised, they were the underdogs. And I go for underdogs.
I immediately stole the first three albums off my brother, who didn't seem to notice they were missing, and promptly became a lone, late Durannie.
My interest in them faded a bit until 90, when I was at university in Cardiff. Two years after it had been released, I got a hold of Big Thing and fell instantly in love with the slow, sultry melancholy of Palomino, the tears and grief of Do You Believe In Shame? and the gritty disillusionment of The Edge Of America.
I immediately went on another Duran binge, listening to them constantly for weeks on end. Then Ordinary World came out and I was just blown away. I never understood why they don't get more respect for that one song alone. It truly is a wonderful, beautiful track. I suspect, however, that the reason they don't is because it was on The Wedding Album, 50 per cent of which is utter cack.
Again, my passion for all things Duran died down a bit, as happens with these things. I go in phases. I get obsessive about something, can't get enough of it, I need a constant supply of whatever it is to get me through the day. I fill my life with it to overflowing, until eventually, the need is satisfied and I move on.
During the summer of 99, on one of those steaming hot days that sometimes engulfs the country in a haze of pollen and sweat, I heard the droning of a light aircraft in the distance. I was staying at my parents at the time. (Actually, I was living with my parents after my life went down the pan the first time round. I'm an old hand at personal disasters, you see.) The sound and the heat and the location all added up to a craving for a Duran fix.
But this time round, though, I had the internet, and email lists and access to communities of Durannies where I was accepted without prejudice. It was through one of these communities that I met Kate. We eventually met offline too, and got on like a house on fire. I count her as one of my closest friends now – she's stuck with me through thick and thin, and without her I would never have got to see Duran at all this year.
The first time I went to see Duran was at Earls Court in December 99. By that time, Duran consisted of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Warren Cucurrullo. Although Duran had, strictly speaking, never broken up, by that point they had spent more time with that line-up than they had with the original five-piece.
I was surprised even then at how energetic Simon is on stage. He bounced about all over the place, looking astonishingly sexy. I was just gutted that the audience were such a major bunch of wankers – particularly the woman standing next to me.
My idea of a decent gig is one where I can dance like a maniac and sing along until my voice is hoarse. The Earls Court gig was seated. Fine. Fuck the seats – I'm dancing anyway. Just gives me somewhere to leave my coat. But the woman that stood next to me kept getting all arsey cos I was singing along.
Now, don't here start thinking I sound like a pig in rut when I sing – I actually can hold a tune in a bucket. I may not have the best voice in the world, but I am in tune. But she didn't seem to understand that singing along is essential – it's like a communion, it brings you spiritually closer to the band. And it's fun. So fuck it. I sang anyway.
The next two times I saw Duran were in 2001. I saw them at Bournemouth and then Cardiff. My very good friend Svetlana was in the support band, The Vegastones. And they were fucking ace. To see them supporting a band like Duran, well, I was chuffed as a small horse for Svet.
And, of course, she got us backstage at the Cardiff gig. After hanging out for a bit with her and the rest of her band, whom I also knew, we went back to the Duran's hotel and Simon bought us drinks and we chatted to Joe, their drummer at the time and just had so much fun. I'm not the groupie sort, but that was a real treat. Particularly as Warren appeared to remember me from when I met him at a masterclass hosted by the music school that I was working for a few years earlier.
So, that's my brief history of Duranniedom. Just for background, you understand.
(What is the written equivalent of verbal diarrhoea? Nounal diarrhoea?)

Some people call it a one night stand
But we can call it paradise

What was it like in 84? When Duran were at their peak? When teenage girls screamed until they fainted, just because they were in the presence of the five cutest guys in pop? (Well, four and a half. Andy-the-chinless-wonder has never been more than a half, frankly.)
Last night's gig gave me some idea. I have been to a lot of gigs in my time. A lot of them very big gigs by very popular bands. But last night, well that was in a league of its own.
The average age of the crowd must have been about 30. There were a lot of couples there, although more younger people than in London. In London there were a lot of guys who had quite obviously only been dragged along because their wives had decided that they would go to the gig, end of discussion. Walking up to Wembley Arena, you'd see the women in pairs, giggling in anticipation and at their very 80s attire, with two sullen looking guys trailing on behind muttering darkly about football.
Scissor Sisters were the support band last night and they were unexpectedly good. But, well, nothing prepared me for the screams that rang out when Duran came on. The original line up. That means John Taylor. And Roger. Nick. Simon. Oh, yeah, and Halfpint.
Unlike previous concerts, where they played a lot of new stuff and only the old hits that they really couldn't get away with not playing (have you seen a lynching by miffed Durannies? Not nice), last night was almost all old songs, with only three new ones.
I have never heard so much screaming. I have never seen so many hands raised. I have never heard so many people singing along and, because this is Wales we are talking about, singing along perfectly in tune. It was amazing.
What was also amazing was just how damn fit the guys look. Simon, known for his fluctuating weight, was slim and lithe and looking the best I've seen him in recent years. John… well… frankly no man of his years has any right to have an arse that pert. Sheesh. As Simon commented, the air was full of hormones. Teenage hormones. You could smell it.
The old line-up, though, worked now as it did then because of the astounding on-stage chemistry between the band members. There was something palpable, something powerful happening on that stage. The buzz, particularly between Simon and John, was all-consuming. We knew it. They knew it. And everyone loved it.
I cannot imagine what it must have been like for them. For years they have been the object of much ridicule. People find out I'm a Duran fan, and you get that knowing, sideways look of pity from someone that thinks they know better. It must have been an experience to walk out on to that stage after so long and get the kind of reception – the adulation – that they got last night.
Endearingly, you could tell that they were caught a bit unawares by this. The boyish grins exchanged, the looks of sheer delight and surprise, the incredulity. I got the feeling that they'd never expected to play a gig like that again and the fact that it was happening, now, in 2004, was something none of them had ever considered to be possible.
Bear in mind, of course, that Duran are doing this tour with no record deal, no album to promote. They've been in the studio together for three years, but rumour has it that the record companies won't touch them and that they can't get a deal. It's insanity. With the reception they got last night, the idea that there's no market for their new stuff is just idiocy.
Which brings me on to the new songs they played. One second hearing, I must admit, I rather liked them. Of course, lack of familiarity means you can't sing along like you can the old stuff, but still, after only two outings, they were certainly growing on me. I'd love to hear the rest of their stuff, see if it holds water or not, but I guess I'll have to wait a long while longer.
Duran played for nearly 2 hrs 15 last night. That's longer than a lot of gigs by trendier bands that I've been to. Poor JT, in particular, looked to be suffering under the heats of the followspots – his red shirt sopping wet and clinging to his skin by the end of the gig.
Ooh, hang on a moment, I think I need to go for a cold shower before I continue?
Gigs like that, well, I wish I had a better memory. I wish I could just replay it in my head at will. I can still see scenes now, John on one knee laying into his bass, looking like the Slutboy of my dreams. Simon and John singing into the same mic, faces hardly inches apart.
According to reports from the American leg of the tour, they'd taken to snatching a quick snog on stage. Simon's been known to snog Nick occasionally on stage, for effect's sake. Half the girls go mad – I guess it's the eroticism of seeing the guys they fancy snogging but without the jealousy of there being another woman involved – and the other half are utterly disgusted by the spectacle.
Kate and I were kinda hoping we'd be treated to a quick tonguing, but although they teased and flirted, it was not to be. Maybe Simon hadn't packed his toothbrush. Pity.
Musically, the gig was great. The only bit that blew was hearing Andy mangle Ordinary World. I'm not quite sure what he thought he was doing, but I did wish someone would turn him down. Or off. But the usual weak spot – Simon's voice – was flawless. I remember thinking at Earl's Court that he'd had some lessons, but this time round his voice was the strongest I've ever heard it. He used to cop flack for being a bit, er, 'flexible' with his singing, but he was spot on. Perfectly in tune. And his voice has a timbre and richness that it never used to have. More depth. More strength. More tenderness. It was, quite simply, swoonful.
At the back of the stage were hung five video panels, used to their best advantage during Careless Memories when they played an anime video of the band destroying a multitude faceless evil enemies, alien, robots and Godzillaesque monsters. Rather amusing, particularly for the stab at EMI at the end (Endangered Music Industry). Heh.
Other highlights included Come Undone, Rio, Girls on Film, White Lines (I so love their version), and the way that Simon introduced the band and Andy and JT broke into Do You Think I'm Sexy as it was Simon's turn to be introduced. Yes, Simon, we do think you're sexy. (And the fact that we do scares us slightly.)
Years ago, you'd see people at gigs with tape recorders, trying to get a decent bootleg, or cameras trying to get a good shot. Now that security makes it increasingly difficult to get either of those items into a gig, it's cameraphones all the way. And when the obligatory slow number came up, and that point in the evening when people used to get out their lighters and wave them above their heads, Simon invited us all to get our mobiles out and use those for light instead. And lots of people did. I, of course, suffer from mobile phone shame, so I kept my tucked away. It wasn't quite the same as lighters but… well, it was more colourful!
For those from #joiito that were party to my footwear discussion, I decided to sacrifice comfort for height and wore my two inch heels instead of my comfy old Campus. Certainly I benefited from the extra inches, standing as I was (inevitably) behind Mr Tall Bastard. However, by the end of the first third I could no longer feel my toes. By the end of the second third, all I could feel was my toes. I was in agony by the time that the gig was over and we had to totter all of 20 yards across the road to our hotel. Still, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. (And yes, that includes wearing pigtails.)
Ah, what more can I say? (Without going on about how absolutely gorgeous they looked.) It was a fantastic gig. It was, as we used to say when I was at school, ace.

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