Back in 2021, I was lucky enough to see Duran Duran perform two ‘homecoming’ gigs in Birmingham a month or so before the release of Future Past, the band’s well received 15th studio album. Those gigs delivered a few tracks from the new record, a light sprinkling of deep cuts and hits – lots of them! 20 months on, and the group are touring the UK and playing much bigger crowds, but fundamentally not much has changed.
The muggy, sweaty environment the O2 Institute Birmingham (which has a capacity of just 2000) was replaced by the glitz and glamour afforded by the larger platform of London’s 20,000 capacity O2, which boasted some excellent projected visuals on angled screens (initially on stage with the band, before being hoisted high into the air).
Frontman Simon Le Bon looked great, echoing the ‘sailorboy’ look of his younger self back in the New Romantic days, with a sparkly silver jacket, white trousers and a blue and white stripy T-shirt, while Nick Rhodes, set back stage right in an elevated position, was equally dapper. Roger Taylor was hidden away behind a mountain of drums and cymbals while John Taylor stood to Simon’s right and guitarist Dom Brown was on the left. As in Birmingham, there were two female backing singers.
One of the highlights of the evening was the amount of songs played from Duran Duran, the band’s 1981 debut album; five tracks in total (more than any of their other albums). Granted, they almost always play ‘Girls On Film’ and ‘Planet Earth’ but early ‘flop’ single ‘Careless Memories’ rocked surprisingly hard and got the crowd on their feet while album track ‘Friends Of Mine’ hasn’t been worn down by familiarity. The early songs sound particularly good because of their more stripped-back sound, although starting the show with the relatively low-key ‘Night Boat’ perhaps illustrates the perils of going off-piste too much, because I thought it received a somewhat muted response.
But the evening was primarily about entertainment and that meant giving the capacity crowd what they’d mostly come to hear: hit singles. Duran Duran made no attempt to pretend that they’ve had a long and consistent career: 14 of the 20 songs performed were released between 1981 and 1986. They played three tracks from Future Past (‘Invisible’, ‘Anniversary’ and ‘Give It All Up’), two from 1993’s ‘The Wedding Album’ (‘Ordinary World’ and ‘Come Undone’) and their usual cover of ‘White Lines’, which still remains a ludicrous idea on paper, but always goes down very well! To put it another way, they played nothing from EIGHT ALBUMS released between 1988 and 2020, which is mildly surprising considering that BMG have been reissuing many of those records in recent times, such as the 2004 reunion album Astronaut (which features two hit singles in ‘(Reach Up For The) Sunrise’ and ‘What Happens Tomorrow’).
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There’s still too much backing track/sequencer stuff going on for my liking, with songs like ‘A View To A Kill’ and ‘The Reflex’ being required on stage to sound EXACTLY like their studio counterparts. Apart from Simon’s excellent vocals, Duran Duran have a curiously ‘un-live’ sound. The show would probably benefit from an acoustic-type break in proceedings where they turn off all the computers come to the front of the stage and show us they can actually play (which we know they can).
Like many bands whose glory days were 30 or 40 years ago, Duran Duran are effectively boxed into a corner where if they want to sell out big arenas and make good money, they need to play a greatest hits shows. That rewards the casual fans who heard the hits on the radio but likely disappoints the diehards who would prefer a deeper dive into the albums for tracks like ‘A Matter Of Feeling’, ‘The Edge Of America’, ‘My Antarctica’ or ‘Still Breathing’. I mean, why not start the show with a rousing ‘Big Thing’? I think that would sound great! Sometimes the act of regularly playing songs turns them into well-received classics, even if they were not a big hit at the time (Tears For Fears’ ‘Break It Down Again’ is a good example of this).
To be fair, last night, they did play the Rio album track ‘Last Chance On The Stairway’ so that was was a nod in the right direction, but you can only play so many songs in one hour and 45 minutes and they’ve enjoyed so many hit singles. If they wanted advice from SDE (which I’m sure they don’t) I’d say they should give ‘A View To A Kill’, ‘Wild Boys’ and ‘White Lines’ a rest. I’m actually very surprised that the band haven’t thought of playing Duran Duran (from 1981) and Rio in full, back-to-back. That would still include loads of hits but deliver all the great album tracks from those first two records.
Setlist quibbles to one side, Duran Duran undoubtedly delivered an evening of fun, entertainment and nostalgia. Just in case it was not ‘eighties’ enough for the audience, when the band played ‘Save A Prayer’ in the encore, it was accompanied by filmed visuals of a slow motion dove flapping its wings with feathers flying all over the shop. I’d have expected nothing less.
Duran Duran play the O2 London again tonight and dates in the UK follow afterwards. The America tour starts on 27 May. Tour dates.
Live O2 London – 1 May 2023. Duran Duran /
O2 setlist 1/5/23
- Night Boat
- Wild Boys
- Hungry Like The Wolf
- A View to a Kill
- Give it all Up
- Last Chance On The Stairway
- Is there something I should know?
- Friends of Mine
- Careless Memories
- Ordinary World
- Planet Earth
- White Lines
- The Reflex
- Girls on Film
- Come Undone
- Save a Prayer
- O2 setlist 1/5/23