The kings of ‘80s MTV, Duran Duran brought their infectious synth/guitar pop hits and newly anointed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame credentials to North Island Credit Union Amphitheater in Chula Vista last week. Opening the show were indie pop band Bastille and the legendary Nile Rodgers & Chic.
I’m old enough to remember Duran Duran blazing a trail in the emerging new era of MTV and the rise in popularity of music videos. Perhaps more than any band at the time, Duran Duran recognized and harnessed the power and impact of music videos. Band member fashion was important, they filmed at exotic locations, and they used professional movie cameras with 35mm file rather than videotape, all of which gave them a superior quality that stood out over most videos at the time. Videos were clearly the platform that led to the band from Birmingham, England selling over 100 million records and achieving global superstardom. Now it was time to see how the band, with four of five original members, sounded over 40 years since their introduction to the world.
With the sun setting on another beautiful summer evening in San Diego, Bastille warmed up the sun-soaked crowd as charismatic lead singer Dan Smith paced back and forth across the stage, non-stop singing and sometimes rapping away. The most enthusiastic response predictably came during the London band’s final song, their massive 2013 anthem “Pompeii.”
Next up was the privilege of seeing Nile Rodgers and his band Chic, as we were treated to over a dozen incredible hits that Rodgers either wrote or produced. The set blasted off with Chic’s smash hits “Le Freak,” “Everybody Dance,” and “I Want Your Love.” Then Rodgers took us on a hit parade journey of his incredible career: Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl,” Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out,” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love.” It was a fantastic experience to see a living legend and member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. It’s also interesting to note that Rodgers has ties to Duran Duran going way back to 1983 as he worked on “The Reflex” single, then “Wild Boys,” and produced the album “Notorious.”
Duran Duran’s show started with all four original members appearing together, backlit with fog machines on top of a riser – like a dramatic pro wrestling match introduction. However, the first song was a curious choice, the slow ballad “Night Boat.” The only visible members were singer Simon Le Bon and bassist John Taylor as huge video screens obstructed views of drummer Roger Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes. Guitarist? Nowhere to be seen yet. It felt a bit anti-climactic as the audience was amped up and ready to dance and sing. At least it was quite evident that Le Bon’s voice was in fantastic shape.
After the slow start and to the delight of the audience, the band quickly pivoted into high gear – the large screens blocking views of half the band rose to reveal the full stage including two female backing singers and saxophonist. Longtime touring guitarist Dom Brown triumphantly emerged to start rocking “Wild Boys” followed by the huge hit “Hungry Like the Wolf.” It’s worth mentioning that original guitarist Andy Taylor is currently battling stage four metastatic prostate cancer. He was unable to attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony last fall due to a health setback. However, Andy has rejoined the band and will appear on the band’s upcoming album.
The show was fun to watch, with gigantic video graphics behind them, Le Bon is clearly enjoying himself, singing with a huge childlike grin, John Taylor is running around all over the stage often sharing a mic with Le Bon on choruses, and Brown is a talented, animated guitar player. The sound was perfect, very crisp, with every instrument from sax to guitar dialed in at the right mix level under the prominent lead and backing vocals. The production was top notch, but we would expect nothing less from Duran Duran.
All the hits were played: “A View to a Kill,” “Ordinary World,” “Come Undone,” “Planet Earth,” “Girls on Film,” and “Notorious.” Returning onstage for the encore, Le Bon acknowledged the packed amphitheater, “You’ve been an amazing crowd; how nice to play for you guys. This is what is supposed to be like!” The first encore was “Save a Prayer,” where the amphitheater lights were turned off so people’s cell phone lights could create a “Milky Way” per Le Bon’s request. Finally, Duran Duran brought the house down with their iconic hit “Rio” to send the cheering crowd home completely satisfied.