I honestly don’t know exactly how many times I’ve seen Duran Duran in concert.
I think this most recent one the other week was #12.
Trust me, that’s a puny amount compared to some other Duranies I’ve met over the years.
There was one woman back in Florida that was the envy of everyone – by 2008 she was already closing in on 200; God knows what she’s up to now. There are certain folks known around the Duran community that travel extensively across continents on every tour. Mostly Italians, it seems like. I have no shame in admitting I am insanely jealous of all of these seasoned Duran concertgoers.
There really is no way to describe that sublimely perfect blend…
It’s a ridiculously addictive, intoxicating drug. But then, I don’t need to describe it to this group, do I? You know exactly what I mean. You get it. (See my previous article explaining the “whys” behind my Durandemonium…)
That said, I am extremely grateful for having been able to attend the Duran shows I have over the years.
I’ve seen postings from people just over the past month who have been lifelong fans. They are just now getting to see them for the very first time. And I am quite relieved they chose Washington DC as one of the stops during this leg of the Future Past tour. (Huge bummer for the folks who got rained out at the other week’s North American opener in Minneapolis- it was announced they won’t be rescheduling the show after all…)
Technically, this wasn’t a DC show. The Merriweather Post Pavilion is in Columbia, MD, which is closer to Baltimore than DC. It is quite the storied venue, though.
Columbia, Maryland is a massive planned community that first started being developed back in the 60’s. Part of the master plan was to set aside a large parkland space for an outdoor amphitheater. From what I’ve heard, the original developer was aiming high with this plan, thinking they could make this venue the permanent summer home for the National Symphony Orchestra. As part of his sucking up campaign, he sweet talked a major benefactor of the NSO into supporting the idea by saying the amphitheater would be named for her – Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post Cereal fortune (another reference to The History Channel’s Men Who Built America series.)
She was supposed to donate a hefty sum to support the construction of the venue, but no record has ever been found that she actually did; the general consensus is she decided to withhold her gift after some tiff with the developer.
And then, within a few years of the Pavilion opening, the NSO gets wooed away by another benefactor who was on the board of the NSO, and they move to Wolf Trap Farm in Virginia, where they remain to this day. Wolf Trap is the only amphitheater I’m aware of in the US that is National Park Property. So here we are, 50+ years later, and Marjorie Merriweather Post is still laughing somewhere, her name forever attached to this venue that she apparently contributed zero dollars to. But the name is too synonymous with the ‘shed.’ And it will remain so after the latest management group acquired it within the past few years (the same private company that runs The 9:30 Club in DC, which is THE concert venue for rock shows downtown, as well as a few other smaller venues around the city). No corporate sell out here: this venue will remain in private hands for many more decades.
I had never attended a show at MPP before, but it’s reputation is unparalleled. I see why the locals in Columbia, Maryland, and DC revere it, and why it’s so well known throughout the Mid-Atlantic – it’s amazing. I mean, it was originally built for the friggin National Symphony Orchestra, so yeah, it’s not your average amphitheater.
Jiffy Lube Live, Northern Virginia’s outdoor amphitheater, looks like a temporary venue in comparison.
If I actually lived in the area, I’d love to have the opportunity to just go any time, chill on the lawn and take in some gigs. It’s a terrific setting.
But when it comes to Duran, sitting on the lawn and chilling is NOT an option.
1: It has to be close to the stage. I don’t care about the video screens and lights and spectacle – I am there to see the guys in concert and watch them in action.
And 2: (a mandatory component for 20 years now): I have to be stage right, where short, shrimpy me can view the Taylor boys on that side of the stage, without worrying about having my view obstructed.
It’s hard enough to see the drummer as it is. This particular Roger Taylor has zero desire to be the front and center spectacle that the OTHER Roger Taylor drummer from Queen strives to be!
I went to a SRO, Fan Club only show Duran did back in NYC in 2007. I scared myself at how enraged I got that I wound up with two guys over six feet tall directly in front of me. and totally blocking my view of Roger, even though we were standing maybe only 5 rows back. My friends managed to squeeze out enough room so we could shift juuuust enough to give me my unobstructed view after all. Dutch was much happier then.
Fan club ticket presale for this year’s American Tour jaunt went online back in March, about two weeks before other pre-sales and 3 weeks before the general public, if I recall correctly. I logged in to Ticketmaster and actually secured a front row ticket. But because I was going between my phone and my work computer and my personal laptop, I confused it and the site froze up on me where I had the front row ticket.
I of course start cursing out all three devices and sweating, freaking out, knowing full well that it’s my fault for logging in to three separate places. But feeling better blaming something else at that moment.
Once I got a responsive Ticketmaster site, nothing was available front row. I honestly didn’t feel too bummed, because those tickets were several hundred dollars more than I wanted to spend anyway.
So instead of the “Platinum Ticket Package,” I went for a “Gold Package,” choosing a seat on the end of the angled fifth row on the floor. Everything was open to my left up to the stage, I had the ability to move around and see things as needed, plus plenty of elbow room to dance. Like an idiot – (I HATE feeling boxed in at a Duran concert, because my God they are a dance band first and foremost, and I just gotta dance!)
What was the distinction between the Platinum, Gold, and Silver ticket packages? Just a way to justify the ticket prices. The different levels got different swag, that’s all. Back in the day for Duran shows, VIP ticket holders got a pre-show party, drinks, swag, and a chance to meet the band. Nowadays we get the swag mailed to us the weekend before the show…
…With a note saying basically, “there is no experience at the venue, your ticket got you this and great seats; and that’s it.” I guess, blame Covid?
Ok, enough babbling, let’s get to the show!
The day has arrived. I finally get to see Duran Duran again after a nearly seven year drought. Part of my VIP ticket price was reserved parking in the lots closest to the venue. I was not about to risk anything about the day, so I left home quite early in the afternoon because I’m dealing with Metro DC and Baltimore traffic. Anything could go horribly wrong, even though on a good day its barely over a hour drive from where I live. Thankfully it’s an uneventful trek, and I’m in my parking spot by 4:30.
The gates don’t open until 5:30 though, so I wind up just chilling outside a gate, listening to Duran do their soundcheck, enjoying the perfect summer afternoon in the park. I’d never heard a soundcheck before, so that was interesting for the music nerd in me.
Folks started lining up at the gate at 5, got in right after 5:30. I had gotten to the concert in 2016 at DC’s Capital One Arena a few songs into Chic’s set, so I told myself I would not miss a second this time.
So I people watch for the next hour or so, while leafing through the tour book. I think I recognized a few Duranie’s I’ve met over the years, but I was too lazy to go run them down across sections. At 7:00 a local DJ came out on stage to get the vibe going (like this crowd needed help). Chic came on stage around 7:45, and I could not see anyone who remained in their seats during that hour.
Nile Rodgers is an amazing performer. He is so comfortable on stage, chatting to the audience like it’s an intimate dinner party, not 18,000 people or so. He does an hour set, pretty equally split between Chic songs, and those he wrote and produced for others. We got a Diana Ross medley, a Madonna medley, a David Bowie medley, a Sister Sledge medley, and of course, Get Lucky. I was completely winded after he was done from dancing and singing during his set. I totally needed the break to recuperate before Duran came on at 9.
His final two songs were Le Freak and Good Times (with some Rapper’s Delight thrown in for good measure), and just after they started Le Freak, all the women in the four rows ahead of me suddenly turned into a herd of cats that all saw a laser at the same time. [Swoosh] went all their heads to the left, and these middle aged women all turned into squealing 12 year-olds, hanging on each other and getting their phones out.
One of the women in my row walked the few feet up to the edge of the stage to see around the roadie boxes, squealed, took a picture and came back to show what the fuss was all about. Simon LeBon had come out to stage right to hang with the crew and watch the end of Nile’s set, singing and dancing along with Chic.
He was just hiding around the corner from my location, so I never saw him behind the crates. Oh well, no biggie for me, I’m not a Simon Girl. But to watch about 30 or so women immediately in front of me totally lose their shit all at the same time was just awesome to witness. These women are married, with kids, some with grandkids even (Simon’s got 2 grandkids himself in fact – yes, Yasmin LeBon is a grandma [or “Zsa-Zsa” as they call her]. We are indeed old). Forty years on: the man still reduces them to quivering goo in an instant.
My choice of seating worked out really well, as it was just venue photogs and staff rotating in and out of the awkward open area behind me, so I was able to move easily, dance, and not have to deal with Token Drunken Male For His Group of Women Friends™ in the seat next to me. Well, he fell into me once, but he fist bumped me to thank me for catching him, so, you know, he was a cordial drunk at least.
He got up half way through Duran’s set, I presume he went to go lay down somewhere.
I didn’t see him for the second hour at all. Anyway, so I’m sitting there, not paying much attention to the folks passing by in between sets, but then this group suddenly appears from some side door off the stage, and starts filling up the area between me and the stage.
And so my inner dialog starts up…
“Oh come on, seriously? What is this, all these people suddenly congregating right here, taking up MY dancefloor space!
“Geez, it’s like a school field trip, poor chaperone in the middle looks flustered already, ha!
“Oh geez, she’s got that whole suburban mom vibe going too with that big sunglasses on top of her head soccer mom thing, pff, like Roger’s wife does a lot, why does that bug me so much? “Weird, kinda looks like her too… Hey!! How’d that kid get a Pepsi? I didn’t see Pepsi at the food stand, I want a Pepsi too…. Man, that kid totally looks like a Mini-Rog…..”
[Let’s pause here for station identification on the tnocs.com radio network while the big oversized cartoon boxing glove drops out of the sky in slow motion to whap our Dutch upside the head with a damn clue.]
“Of course that’s Gisella, you dumbass, of course she’d be here at this show with every relative of hers from the DMV.
Yeah, I can kiss that dream of snagging a drumstick from Roger goodbye here tonight, he’s only gonna be focused on his in-laws and the Mrs… good thing I decided to NOT take the ‘I’ve dreamt about your drumstick my entire life Roger’ t-shirt route: it’d be my luck the Mrs. has no sense of humor…don’t stare at them, dumbass! Play it cool…oh hell, is she checking out my shirt?….”
So yeah, current Mrs. Roger Taylor is from DC. Well, originally Peru, her dad was some diplomat or banking bigwig or something, so she grew up here. Met Roger after Duran’s DC reunion show nearly 20 years ago. I figured it must’ve been her sisters and their kids all trying to make their way to their seats in the field trip group. Took them probably 15 minutes to make it there, stopping to chat with people.
Many Duranies were doing that whole fake “oh HI!” thing to greet her, and while I don’t doubt she genuinely knew and remembered some from back in the day at DC shows, I felt bad for her having to wade through this sea of fawning and pretending she was happy to see all these people. But they eventually disappeared into their row in the center section, and I quietly celebrated getting my dancefloor back.
And wow, that paragraph totally makes me out to be in weirdo stalker fan territory.
I promise I’m not, lol.
Right at 9PM, everything goes dark. The stage begins to light up with dark green lighting, and we get treated to Duran’s instrumental Velvet Newton from last years new album, Future Past. The bass kicks in and I just squeal with total giddiness, considering I’m about 15 feet from a wall of subwoofers. It literally moved me.
Thirty seconds in, and I’m already more excited than I was at any point during the 2016 Duran show (if you recall from my gushing over The Stadium Tour earlier this summer, depression had me in a stranglehold by 2016, and it was that concert that finally woke me up to that fact).
This was more like it.
The crowd is already going nuts, and no one’s on the stage yet. The song reaches about the two minute mark, and an unmistakable shadow emerges from Stage right. The crowd immediately shrieks “JOHN!!!!” I freely admit I was one of those shrieks (I mean, I named my second car after him, how can you NOT love The Bass God, John Taylor???).
John walks to our corner and waves, still in shadows, crowd further loses its shit. Roger sneaks up to his kit on the riser while John’s hogging the adoration, so I do my obligatory scream/bellow/catcall for Roger. Nick walks up onto his riser behind his wall of synths, crowd shrieking wave ebbs up again (the only man in the history of rock music to make standing in place and never breaking a sweat behind a bank of keyboards look amazingly cool – Mr Nick Rhodes, everybody!).
Then their touring guitarist walks out, and gets a huge reaction himself because frankly, Duran fans have basically accepted Dom Brown as an unofficial member of the band since almost his day one (Andy Taylor quit mid tour in 2005 or so on the reunion tour, so Dom has been there ever since, and has popped up on some albums with Duran during that time frame as well).
With about 30 seconds left in Velvet Newton, a figure all in white makes his way through the shadows to center stage, the crowd REALLY goes bonkers, and Simon holds his arms out and throws his head back to soak it all in. That’s our fearless diva front-man, Simon LeBon, bless him for still loving the spotlight as much now as he did as a young 22 year old pup.
Velvet Newton finally finishes up, the lights come on, and Boom, Boomba-boom, boomba-boom, boomba-boom goes with that unmistakable bass drum opening loop to Wild Boys. Simon does his usual goofy scream of “WIIIIIIILDDDDDD!”, and awaaaaay we go…..!
I spent soooo many years over the decades telling naysayers how fantastic a live band these guys are, and it’s nice to hear people finally acknowledge that now. They know how to give a full show spectacle; shoot, Nick and John were planning out live stage show concerts when they were barely teenagers based on the concerts they went to together.
And I think John and Roger just love being able to play live and loud and jam together on stage, they are just like one mind playing. John wanders ceaselessly around the stage the entire show. He goes to join Simon on the mic to sing along on various parts, knowing full well most of the females in the audience just lose their damn minds every time the two of them come within a foot of each other. Then John bounces off grinning like a fool while those fingers churn out super intricate basslines, his head doing this funky chicken bobblehead jam.
It’s just such a joy to watch someone who is still having a blast playing live. Yes, the guys may all be in their 60’s now (Nick was the last to cross the 60 threshold this past June), but they still have the enthusiasm of rookies while having 40+ years of veteran know-how, performing, and playing live under their belt.
Simon’s the only one with a bit of a grandad belly on him, but they are all still in terrific shape.
So, nineteen songs total, a two hour show. 60% of the songs were pre-1985, four from the new album, the mandatory two from ‘93’s The Wedding Album (Ordinary World and Come Undone) and a few other goodies. They’ve since added a 20th song to the set, so I did not get the pleasure of hearing Union of the Snake, but I’m pretty happy with this set list we did get. The absolute best stretch was them playing Friends of Mine, back to back with Careless Memories, two tracks from their debut album. I looooove Careless Memories, because it’s them at their angry rock-iest, and it’s just so loud and punky.
I don’t think I’ve heard them do that track live since 2005, so I was definitely bopping around to that like I was on a pogo stick for this concert, air drumming away like a fool.
The new tracks got a really good reaction too, everyone in our area knew the words to the new stuff, which I always love to see. They’ve been swapping Anniversary with All of You throughout this tour. While I think All of You is one of their best songs ever, I was very happy we got to see Anniversary live, so it could be one big adoration love fest of celebrating them being a part of our lives for 40+ years, and them saying thank you for allowing them to do so.
I rarely take videos and don’t take many pictures at Duran concerts because it distracts me too much, when all I want to do is focus on the show. I did come across a clip someone posted of the concert of Planet Earth from their seats way up in a sky box, and I could actually identify myself down on the floor, waving my hands in the Ay-ar like I just didn’t cay-ar, jumping away in time with all the “bap bap-pa, ba bah bah buh-pa”.
But I did record my highlight song in full, which is always phenomenal: A View To A Kill. I cannot say it enough – that song kicks such serious boo-tay live in concert. The drums are just big and full and so distinctive, while the bass is this fervent non-stop thunder that just rattles your fillings. Recordings don’t do it justice – it’s something you just have to experience live in person. One of those pure bliss “I Love Life” transcending moments.
Well, it is for me at least. Ha!
The show was a ridiculously relentless pace of dance-dance-dance. I welcomed the breather early on with Come Undone and later Ordinary World, but then they just get right back at it. For once, I was actually happy to hear The Reflex live, so I could take a break and look around at the crowd (I find The Reflex deadly dull in concert).
Awesome crowd, very happy, and everyone was up out of their seats. I had felt like I’d run up the steps of the Washington Monument, I was so exhausted by the encore. Check out this final sprint on their setlist once they pick back up after the Ordinary World interlude:
- Planet Earth
- Hold Back The Rain (from the Rio album, a fantastic deep cut)
- The Reflex (zzzzzz, but the other 99% of the audience loves and dances like crazy to)
- White Lines (which has been a live staple for them for nearly thirty years now. They love playing it because it’s so energetic. I absolutely love hearing it, it never gets old for me, but I know a lot of the fans don’t like it cause it’s too ‘rock’ for them)
- Girls On Film
But WAIT, there’s more!! They only give us a few minutes before coming back for the encore, but thankfully the first encore song is Save a Prayer, so it’s just a lot of swaying in place and following Simon’s request for folks to get out their mobile’s and turn the flashlight on. Always makes for an amazing effect when you turn around to look at the crowd and see thousands of little white lights dotting the venue. With the random super-old-school folks who just HAVE to use a lighter instead thrown in the mix.
It all builds up to the Grand Poohbah of a finale – Rio.
It is an amazing song to end on, and they’ve done so for many years now, because it is so euphoric live and is a fantastic way to wrap up the show. Thing is, it’s one of their longest songs, with what John freely admits is one of the most relentless basslines he’s ever done, and Roger going full steam on the drums throughout the song, building up to that 4-on-the-floor frantic final minute or so. They’ve talked often about how they really have to pace themselves throughout the show to make sure they got enough in the tank for Rio. They’ve always nailed it.
This time they changed up the visuals for Rio with some kitschy day-glo graphics that looked like they were from an early 80’s Atari driving game, only to have that fade at the chorus to display the Rio album cover, in all her mysteriously exotic, giddy glory. Nothing else – just the cover. But damned if it wasn’t just the icing on a cherry ice cream smile.
I mean, the fact it’s Rio’s 40th anniversary this year, the bands officially at 42 years and counting now, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction in a couple of months (my bet is on Mark Ronson introducing them at the ceremony), it was like having this immense, warm hug from the Nagel Rio gal saying – we made it folks. We deserve to celebrate; this had been a kick ass ride so far!
I did my best to be a one-woman Woodstock ’99-like jump fest, hopefully it encouraged folks behind me to let loose too. But when you’re that close to the stage at a Duran show, it’s pretty mandatory to behave like it’s the lamest attempt by a bunch of middle aged folks to turn into a mosh pit. I liken it to being at a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, holding your hands up nonstop for two hours, and I don’t doubt for a second there were women up close willing to flash for John and Simon if it could gain them something, lol.
I don’t know if other artists have specific things they always do during their shows, but Simon’s got a whole litany, and it’s this weird sense of endearing comfort that he always does the same thing. He and John always share the mic on the Wild Boys chorus; does his little run/jump in Hungry Like The Wolf after the drum break; has Nick say something during The Reflex towards the end when they’re doing the pre-chorus (“so why-i-yi-yi-yi don’t you use it”), and I’ve yet to understand Nick’s witty comment for the evening because his mic is still too low in the mix after all these years; Simon does his goofy driving a car move at the end of Notorious; and of course the crowd screaming “Switch It Off!” during Planet Earth after the line “Like Some New Romantic looking for the TV sound.”
A Few random things of note:
- Nile Rodgers did not come out and join them on Notorious, which was rather surprising because he usually does when they are touring together (that’s Nile’s guitar work on Notorious; he produced that album of theirs as well)
- John got so into his roaming all over the stage, he totally lost track of where he was and what he was doing when Planet Earth started, and he starts his usual frantic playing on the intro because, well, it’s a showcase for the bass….. and whoops! No bass sound! He forgot to click his pedal back at his mic, but no worries, his tech was on the ball and ran out to switch it over. John’s momentary look of panic when he realized he’s about 30 feet away from the switch and he can’t hear himself play was pretty adorable.
- Simon takes a moment early on in the show to chat with the crowd at Merry-weather in Merry-land. But the crowd is noticeably carrying on with their own conversations, so Simon pretends to have a hissy fit that he’s trying to talk to the crowd and they’re just chatting over him. John saunters up to his mic and says “well, that’s what we do all the time” and Boom, rim shot from Roger. Simon shrugs and mutters, ‘yeah, that’s true’.
- This was the band’s third time playing Merriweather Post, and Simon brought up that their first time there was on their very first Stateside tour in 1981, when they opened for Blondie. He asked if there was anyone there for this show that saw them there back in 1981 – there were quite a few hands that went up throughout the crowd. They were quite vocal and proud of that distinction too!
- One nice change up was they did the band intros during Planet Earth. It’s usually been Girls on Film over the years, but they are now working Calvin Harris’ “ Acceptable in the 80s” into the mid section of Girls On Film. Another one of their staples comes during the band intros; it’s not John Taylor, it’s “ Play the Fookin Bass, John!” Taylor.
- Simon’s voice still sounds fantastic, and I dare say it sounds better the older he gets. If you knew nothing about this band, you’d probably think the singer’s only been around a few years. So much respect to the man for taking care of his voice so well throughout the decades.
- Not only is Dom, their touring guitarist, a longstanding pseudo member, but their backing singer, Anna Ross, has toured with them for every show since 2005. Recent tours have seen a second singer added to the mix, but Anna’s always been there.
- Andy Hamilton did all the saxophone work for Duran on their first few albums, including the Rio solo, and toured with them in their mad crazy 80s heyday. When the Duran Reunion came around in 2005, he went out on tour with them again, so I can say I have actually heard The Man playing The Duran Sax parts. Andy was also George Michael’s go-to sax player throughout Wham! and George’s solo career (EXCEPT Careless Whisper, which was Steve Gregory, who did the sax work in The Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman), and when George decided to actually tour in 2007, Andy went with him. I went to George’s stop in Tampa on that tour with a group of Duranies – we cheered quite loudly for Andy, ha! But since George stole Andy, Duran had to find a replacement sax guy for their 2007 tour. That was Simon Willescroft, and he has performed with Duran every show since as well.
- Duran just wrapped up this leg of the tour with three sold out shows at the Hollywood Bowl this past weekend. Each night ended with a big fireworks display during Rio, and judging by the videos I’ve seen of it, it was amazing.
I may not have scored any drumsticks from that [smokin’ hawt mofo drummer] Roger at the show, but it’s all good.
It’s been quite a year for the guys of Duran, I’ve loved every moment of the past 38 years I’ve been along for the ride with them, and I – along with every other long time die hard Duranie – will be like proud parents getting to see their boys get inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in about 6 weeks. It only took the industry 15 years to come around to what we’ve said all along:
Duran Duran ROCKS.
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