Written by Heather Vale and photography by Roger Bennett
Like most teenage girls just discovering music and love, I had a favorite band among all the others I liked. In the ‘80s when high school social life was divided into sects based on musical tastes, I was a “Durannie,” the moniker for Duran Duran fans – the type who called the band members by their first names and referred to the group as simply D². We sang along with Simon, admired Nick’s fashion sense, and swooned over John.
Like other Durannies, I bleached my bangs and wore fedoras and glittery scarves. I also named my dog Taylor, as homage to the three non-related Taylors in the band: drummer Roger Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor, and my big crush, bassist John Taylor.
I would have given anything to see them live, and I almost got the opportunity to attend their 1984 show in Toronto – the very concert where the iconic video for “The Reflex” was shot. Yes, I could have been one of those kids dancing in the aisles with their classic, over-the-top ‘80s moves.
But alas, my parents didn’t want me making the trek to the big city, so instead I settled for asking a friend to pick me up a T-shirt while she was there. It had red sleeves and a picture of the band members on the front. That shirt was one of my favorites all through high school and beyond, and I wore it until it became faded and almost see-through.
In the mid-‘90s, now living in Toronto where I hosted and produced a local TV show called WORD, I attended a Duran Duran autograph session that we were covering as a pop culture segment. I was the camera person that day, because I knew I could catch their attention and get some good footage – after all, I was the only young female hoisting a Betacam on my shoulder.
Sure enough, the band – which still included John Taylor as well as singer Simon LeBon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes, joined by former Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo – pointed their Sharpies right at me and joked about wanting to sign their names on my torso. However, I didn’t end up going to their concert on that tour either.
A few years later, John Taylor was touring with his second super group after Power Station. The band, Neurotic Outsiders, also featured members of Guns ‘n’ Roses and the Sex Pistols. I got to see that show, and chat with John in the private pool hall afterwards, because I was working at the venue that night. But I still hadn’t seen Duran Duran play live.
On July 29, Duran Duran stormed into the Mandalay Bay Events Center with the Paper Gods tour, in support of their 14th studio album. Their opening act was Chic, best known for “Le Freak” and “Good Times.” The band features Nile Rodgers, the producer responsible for some of Duran Duran’s biggest hits, including “The Reflex” and “Wild Boys.” He was also instrumental in the careers of Madonna, INXS, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry and more.
For close to two hours, backed by movie screens showing gripping visuals, Duran Duran captured the crowd with a performance that didn’t hold anything back. From the opening strains of the new “Paper Gods,” featuring mystic scenes of ravens and men in robes, to the old hit “Rio,” which launched giant beach balls into the audience, they didn’t disappoint even once.
Having seen hundreds of concerts during my time, this was one of the best. It’s a bit hard to believe the guys are all in their mid-to-late ‘50s, because they looked and sounded as good as they did three decades ago.
Andy Taylor still isn’t in the band, but the other four originals – including Simon, John, Nick and drummer Roger Taylor – are. Unfortunately, Nick wasn’t able to be at this particular show due to a family emergency, but he was represented on the big screens anyhow.
After the opening song, the group went into some old favorites, including “Wild Boys,” “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “A View to a Kill,” which of course featured Bond imagery on the backdrop. Then they slowed things down with “Come Undone” as well as new tracks “Last Night in the City” and “What Are the Chances?”
Nile Rodgers joined them onstage for “Notorious” and last year’s “Pressure Off.” But one of the most beautiful moments of the night came when they mixed “Planet Earth” into David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity,” starting with the line “Planet earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.” Bowie’s giant face on screen made it a deeply moving tribute to the musical giant who recently departed Earth himself.
Next came a mix of classics from different decades – “Ordinary World,” “I Don’t Want Your Love,” “White Lines” and “(Reach Up For the) Sunrise,” which they mixed seamlessly back and forth with “NEW Moon on Monday.” The 90-minute set finished off with “The Reflex” and a remix of “Girls on Film,” boasting a new driving bass intro.
The encore started with the moving classic “Save a Prayer,” which was dedicated to victims and survivors, and Simon instructed the crowd to hold up their lighted cell phones – the modern alternative to the lighter flames we used to use at concerts. Then they ended the show with “Rio,” one of my favorite songs of all time.
I would have liked to hear “Is There Something I Should Know?” and “Union of the Snake,” but I can’t complain about the quality of the performance or the joy on the faces of people around me. I don’t want to wait another 30 years to see them play again, and judging from what I saw, Duran Duran will be going strong for at least several more decades.
And of course, I picked up a new concert shirt … again featuring the band’s picture on the front. But the old one still isn’t going to be totally retired quite yet.