Last Updated on August 10, 2023
When it comes to rivalries between ’80s bands, few can match that of Duran Duran and Depeche Mode. While the former had far more influence on the nascent music video format and claimed more Top 40 singles, the latter (officially formed two years earlier) is considered the godfathers of their genre, a fact cemented by their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a full two years prior to D2’s (Depeche was inducted in 2020; Duran Duran will have their time in the limelight later this year).
Musical rivalries aside, Duran Duran has had a substantial influence on music, especially the new romantic movement. As a child of the ’80s, I can’t overemphasize what they meant to my pre-teen years. Which is one reason why I knew I had to shill out some ducats to see them during my (relatively) brief visit to Los Angeles. The other being they were playing the Hollywood Bowl, one of my favorite venues anywhere.
The setlist kicked off with “Wild Boys.” Considering that’s my all-time favorite D2 song, I was a bit let down. How could anything that followed top that? But then I considered that perhaps they’d started off the evening with that particular song due to the lyrics: “…while you’re dancing in the rain.” And, indeed, the crowd did go wild at how apropos the words fit the meteorological circumstances.
LA tending to be on the dry side — this is the fourth driest on record in the last 128 years — the relative deluge we experienced that evening was rather pleasant — cooling, in fact, after several days of Hades-like temperatures. The dampened weather may have deterred some Angelenos from the customary picnicking beforehand, but the amphitheater remained almost full throughout the performance. (Angelenos are a spoiled lot. On the way out, I heard someone say, “Do you believe how hot it was this afternoon and now it’s so cold?” It was then 73°. At 10:30PM.)
Even though two of the songs that evening were relatively new to me, there was nary a dud in the show, even when frontman Simon Le Bon delivered parts of “Hungry Like the Wolf” in a voice so Shatneresque I thought he’d phone in the rest of the performance then ask Scottie to beam him up. But Le Bon was only saving his voice to later belt it out on such tunes as “A View to a Kill,” when his voice reverberated throughout the hills.
Duran Duran knows their audience. We’re children of the ’80s, so the projections and song choices reflected that. Along with 8-bit computer graphics and nostalgic visuals — most notably for the final song, “Rio,” with its flashback images reminiscent of arcade classic Outrun — the show was a page straight out of MTV Top 20 Video Countdown. Even the graphics for “Come Together” were more than a little influenced by a-ha’s “Take on Me.” Half the show, I wanted to put on a pair of a rollerskates and take breaks at the snack bar for cherry-flavored icees and square microwaved pizza, rather than wait for my cellphone-beckoned waiter to bring me a bottle of wine and a wedge of brie (which you can do at the Bowl nowadays).
In an attempt to remind the audience what year we were in, “Ordinary World” was dedicated to Ukraine. On the opposite side of wokeness, the opening projection was of Queen Elizabeth II, portrayed in stained-glass portraiture, which produced an array of audience reactions ranging from claps to softened boos. “Save a Prayer” was also dedicated to the mother of all corgis.
No strangers to controversy, the band reveled in the outcry against the original release of the video for “Girls on Film,” which was banned by the BBC and heavily edited in the U.S. for MTV. Although the visuals at the Hollywood Bowl show were tame in comparison, some (including my seat neighbors) found them borderline misogynistic, even given the song’s theme. Thought-provoking or deliberately bear-poking? The answer remains as ambiguous as QEII’s legacy. (Or not.)
Opening act Nile Rodgers brought the funk for “Notorious,” and there were numerous must-get-out-of-your-seat-and boogie tunes, including “Planet Earth” and “The Reflex.” Despite his decades of experience, Le Bon still can’t seem to enunciate, his words being only slightly more decipherable than those of Springsteen or, the most notorious mumbler of them all, Dylan. At least with the older, known tunes, you can rely on your old issues of Smash Hits, but newer song inductees into the concert cycle are so incoherent as to make even faux lip-synching implausible.
The show, billed as the end-of-season fireworks finale, bowed after a subdued pyrotechnics display, most likely due to the aforementioned drought conditions.
Duran Duran are a much-treasured recycling of the past. We can’t look to them for innovation or the next grunge, but we can be thankful for the role they’ve played in our lives and for the happiness they bring with them on every tour.