Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Cult @ The Paul Paul Theater, Fresno CA 10/07/16

It’s pretty cool when an international rock group of this caliber and history does a date like Fresno or Bakersfield. Like a friend of mine had mentioned, it keeps us from having to fork out the extra money and time spent traveling to a primary market like LA or San Francisco. Gigs like that are usually a 3 hour drive for most people in this area. Fans in the Central Valley have to pick and choose wisely when it comes to pricey out of town “big” gigs like that. And these days it seems like EVERYONE’s touring. To be more accurate, there are more options to choose from, with groups hitting the road with more frequency even without new material to support, flooding the market with an overwhelming amount of live options. The Cult, at least, were still touring in support of Hidden City, a worthy offering of new material featuring the rocking “Deeply Ordered Chaos.” The Cult have been called the hard rock version of U2. I don’t really see the comparison, but for me, the Cult are a mixture of post-punk hard rock infused with blues and dark wave. Think of bluesy hard rock like Led Zeppelin, plus the baritone of Jim Morrison, the psychedelic mysticism of The Doors, with a dash of Joy Division and early Cure. It was an early set, beginning around 7:15pm with no opener. The energy level in the venue was ok but not quite up to Cult standards. Ian Astbury was engaging the crowd and playfully remarked “tomorrow you will get Country annnd Western. But tonight, you will get Rock n’ Roll.” Numbers-wise, it was a strong turn-out. From what I could see the venue was at least 3/4 full, which is great considering the area and minimal promotion. The Central Valley is a hot spot for country, big name pop and urban acts. The unfortunate reality of a well known rock group touring in a secondary market (especially a rural secondary market) is that you’re going to get an audience of mostly casual fans. Support for rock artists in this area is difficult to assess or even describe. There was a healthy sized crowd present and they were appreciative, but it appeared that most of them were only familiar with the group’s mainstream period of work, albums like Love, Electric and Sonic Temple. Sure there were die-hards present, rocking out, singing their lungs out to the majority of the live set, but from my position at least, they were few and far between. Astbury commented that the group would be performing 3 new selections, and in a playfully self-deprecating move, said “Don’t drift away now, come back, come back, it’s not like we’re in Fresno every week…get it while it’s hot!” 

The performance was mostly good. For most of the set, the group played ferociously. John Tempesta’s drums thumped and rumbled along while Billy Duffy’s guitar smoldered. Damon Fox of Big Elf was recently added to the touring line up, handling keyboard and rhythm guitar duties. Grant Fitzpatrick on bass is another recent addition to the lineup, rounding out the rock solid rhythm section. The live renditions flew over with power. Stand out performances for me were “Wild Flower,” “Rain,” “Fire Woman,” “Deeply Ordered Chaos,” “Love Removal Machine” and “Sweet Soul Sister.” Frustratingly, what was an otherwise very solid set tanked with “She Sells Sanctuary,” one of their most beloved and widely-known numbers. The vocal delivery was uninspired and lacked effort. Astbury was phoning it in. The first verse was practically spoken word. The rest of the vocal performance was just as disappointing, picking up only at the outro. I had waited the whole set to hear this song in particular and upon hearing it live, I thought “what the hell!?” I don’t know if Astbury’s short winded vocals made the rest of the band sound bad, but on SSS, Billy Duffy’s guitar tone wasn’t as magical and John Tempesta’s drumming sounded restrained and tame compared to his playing on the rest of the set. It was like the energy level got dialed back down when there should have been a climax. Pardon the analogy, but it’s like we got blue-balled. The group rescued the set when they returned for an encore of “Love Removal Machine.” It was a good ending to the show but I was still bummed about the lackluster rendition of “She Sells Sanctuary.” Still glad I was able to catch The Cult at a local venue, makes me wonder what the gig would have been like in Oakland or LA.

Advertisements

Coldplay @ Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara CA 09/03/16

There’s only one way to adequately describe this gig: It glowed. The visuals, the music, the vibe…it all GLOWED. This was one of the most gratifying live sets we’d ever experienced, beginning to end, and it was miles beyond what we experienced at the 2003 show. The live set was generous, greatly entertaining, and emotionally satisfying. This tour was in support for their latest colorful offering, A Head Full of Dreams. The tour also served as the proper tour for Ghost Stories as well, released 2 years prior with only a handful of promotional concerts booked. We couldn’t NOT see this concert, as my wife and I were big fans of the previous 3 albums, and it had been over a decade since we last saw Coldplay in concert during the Rush of Blood Tour. Chris Martin had said in an interview that Coldplay was finally at a stage in their careers where they could construct a more than solid setlist. “I think we’re just about at the point in our career where we can get through a concert without playing anything shit. Only now. If we put all our amazing songs together that covers about 20 minutes. Then fill the rest with just pretty good ones.” I think he was still downplaying the quality and staying power of their material, because almost all of those 22 selections were anthemic, emotional rollercoaster sing-alongs. There were several points where we were either misty eyed or fully wept like sissies. Only Morrissey has been able to do that to me in a live setting. These sentimental songs and this stage production were made for stadiums. It was a big show, yet intimate, refreshing, colorful, vibrant, and kaleidoscopic. It’s like we were bathed in color throughout the whole show. It had all the bells and whistles of an riveting outdoor gig. Add energetic yet earnest performers, plus 2 hours of emotionally and spiritually satisfying music and you’ve got a unforgettable concert, easily in my top 3 gigs of all time up to this point. To those with little familiarity with this group, what is the music of Coldplay you might ask? Imagine hugging someone you care for. It feels comforting, warm, secure and serene. Corny as it may sound, for my wife and I, that’s the music of Coldplay.

Levi’s Stadium in Canta Clara, near San Jose and San Francisco, is a gleaming venue and new home of the San Francisco 49ers. It’s shiny, gigantic, posh and state of the art. Max capacity is listed at 75,000 when all space is fully utilized. I’d venture to say this crowd was around 70,000, as there was no 360 degree seating. It was a sell out and we got the full effect of a sell out stadium crowd at night with the xylobands in full use. The xylobands are the wristbands handed out to every audience member. Different colors and blinking sequences are activated according to song selection. It was impressive and breathtaking, it was like a sea of blinking color rising up into the sky, a tsunami of colorful LEDs. By sheer luck we scored seats at the club level and fairly close to the stage, row 7 in section 135, perpendicular to the main stage (thank you, Amex pre-sale). We had a nice side view and up close. We were going to see fireworks, figuratively and literally. The group utilized three stages in total: the main stage, the b-stage with a runway connecting to the main stage. And finally a tertiary stage at the rear of the venue. “A Head Full of Dreams” was the first number in the set, preceded by an extended synth intro and a recorded speech by Charlie Chaplin. It’s an excerpt from the film The Great Dictator. The excerpt goes “…we all want to help one another. Human Beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness. Not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good Earth is rich and can provide for everyone. That way of life can be free and beautiful but we have lost the way…”  and the group began the familiar rhythmic rumble and soaring melody. The sequence opened the show with celebratory and explosive bang, complete with vibrant color patterns on the video screens along with synched fireworks and confetti. The explosions from the confetti and fireworks rattled us, we could feel it in our chests. The Chaplin monologue and the song made for a cathartic opening. The song bounced it’s way along and the group and the acoustics sounded GOOD. We couldn’t help but look at the stage, up and all around the ginormous venue and smile. At the close of the song, the crowd continued the ‘ohh oh ohhhs’ of the outro as the group burst into a vibrant version of “Yellow.” Martin strummed along on an acoustic guitar while the stadium followed along ‘…look at the staarrrrrs…look howww they shiiiine forrr yoooouu..’ Martin grinned as the group continued to play and the crowd kept up the euphoric sing-along. At song’s end, the stadium dimmed to pitch black, and then the opening keyboard lines to “Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall” began, and the stadium slowly flickered on, the Xylobands were activated and a sea of blue-violet LEDs materialized throughout the stands. Neon violet trim outlined the stage and Martin began to sing ‘I turn the music up, I got my records on, I shut the world outside until the lights come on, maybe the streets alight, maybe the trees are gone, I feel my heart start beating to my favorite song…’  and the energy level continued to rise as the xylobands increased in intensity, becoming brighter and more numerous as the song progressed. The song gained momentum and hopped into action, bouncy and exuberant. Will Champion laid down a thumping 4 beat on the bass drum and the song thumped and chugged along. The sing-alongs continued throughout the chorus. Chris Martin was going at it full power, loud open throated singing and easing into his falsetto. A cluster of violet fireworks and a fiery burst of pyro ended the song in a triumphant crash. The energy level was brought down for the delicate and sentimental “The Scientist.” The xylobands took a rest and the main stage was illuminated with house lights only so the crowd could see the group with none of the flash, frills or gimmicks. Martin sat at a colorfully decorated upright piano and the sing-along continued as the crowd filled in during the entire song, especially the ‘nobody said It’d be easy’  part. The added twist was the addition of a section of “Pure Imagination” from the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory film, in honor of the late, great Gene Wilder. Our son’s favorite Coldplay song, “Birds,” was next. The video screens flickered on, showing an animation of a flock of birds as the intro played. The intro was adorned by a section of “Oceans” off the Ghost Stories album. The song was uptempo and more anthemic, providing an energy boost after “The Scientist.” At song’s end, the stage lights came down, pitching the venue into darkness again as Johnny Buckland began strumming the intro to “Paradise” on his Telecaster Thinline. Martin joined in on the upright and the xylobands were once again activated and the venue became bathed in shades of blue. The intro was guitar and piano heavy, with the string section removed for this live intro. The crescendo kept building as Martin pounded on the keys with greater intensity and Buckland’s volume increased, and then Will Champion and Guy Berryman joined in on the downbeat and the song was off to a dreamy start. That’s one of their newer offerings that gets us every time. As a music piece it’s lush and angelic, those strings kind of whisper their way into the world and then rise and fall, the piano following along with those delicately fingered melodies. And then there’s the lyrics. Those lyrics mean so much to so many people, ‘Life goes on it get’s so heavy, the wheel breaks the butterfly. Every tear a waterfall, in the night the stormy night she’ll close her eyes.’  For a song that can be so melancholy, it’s still uplifting and comforting. The crowd filled in wonderfully on the ‘oh-oh-oh’ sections and the serene brit-pop continued to hit us. To change up the tempo and the mood, the song switched gears and melted into the Tiesto remix for the final few bars, providing an EDM flavored outro. This closed out the first portion of the show on the main stage. The next string of songs took place on the B stage in the middle of the field. More poignant numbers were presented during this portion of the set. Ghost Stories songs were presented, with “Always in my Head” and “Magic” performed spot on close to the original versions. Then a tender and stirring version of “Everglow” was performed. “Everglow” was performed with vocal and piano only. Described as a song about “giving love,” Martin sat at a baby grand piano on the B stage. The stripped down arrangement made it even harder to listen to than usual. It was more melancholy, yet sweeter in a way. I still prefer it like this in it’s purest form, just piano and voice, over the studio original. The song was followed by a video tribute to Muhammad Ali. The excerpt goes ‘God is watching me. God don’t praise me because I beat Joe Frazier. God don’t give nothing about Joe Frazier. God don’t care nothing about England or America as far as we’re aware of. He wants to know how do we treat each other, how do we help each other. So I’m going to dedicate my life to using my name and popularity to helping charities, helping people, uniting people. We need somebody in the world to help us all make peace. So when I die, if there’s a heaven, I want to see it.’

The band transitioned back to the main stage for the next sequence of songs. “Clocks” began the set with the crowd bathed in red light, the xylobands flickering on. The arena lights plus the xylobands made the crowd look like an eerie sea of red, complete with red tracking lazers. “Clocks” sounded like the studio original but with more power from Will Champion, we could feel the kick drum and the power in his snare strokes, and it sounded better than it did during the 2003 show, no excessive sustain from the piano. A section of “Midnight” off Ghost Stories followed, providing a breather and leading to the joyful “Charlie Brown” off Mylo Xyloto, with the xylobands in full swing again. The vibrant groove, “Hymn for the Weekend” followed, getting the audience to shake it and sing along on the “so high” sections. The grooving funk-pop of “Hymn” ended and once again gave way to another breather in the set: the keyboard intro to “Midnight” appeared once again, acting as a kind of bookend. The surprise occurred when Martin began singing the opening lines of “Fix You” over Midnight’s electronic intro, ‘When you tryyy your best and don’t succeeeeeeed.’  “Fix You” has been called the lynchpin song of the X&Y album. It’s ethereal and cleansing, with that church organ intro on the studio original and plaintive lyrics. For this tour, the intro has been reworked. Gone is the organ intro and the first verse is sung an octave lower than usual. It’s a different interpretation, but the same vibe. Chris Martin stepped out from the main stage and onto the runway leading to the B stage. He laid down on his back on the runway and sang the opening lines like that. He went back into his higher register for the chorus, ‘lights will guiiii-ah-iiiiii-ah-iiiiide you hoooome, annd igniiiii-ah-iiiii-ah-iiiite yourr booones…’  Martin quickly popped back up and the group went into the crescendo, leading to the bridge and final chorus. The audience joined in loudly on the final “lights will guide you home” section, ending the song with an elative sigh. A surprise cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” followed with guest accompaniment. The Oakland School for the Arts Choir joined in and provided background vocals, powering the song along with stirring harmonies. It was a stirring and convincing cover song with several Bowie fans singing along. This sequence of tracks ended with the lush and up key “Viva La Vida” and the funky “Adventure of a Lifetime,” which also happens to be my daughter’s favorite Coldplay song 🙂 After the final ‘woo-ooos,’ the band then made their way to the C stage toward the very rear of the venue. There they presented stripped down, acoustic versions of “In My Place,” “Don’t Panic” and “Till Kingdom Come.” The stripped down take on “In My Place” worked, with Jonny Buckland’s lilting electric guitar melodies ringing throughout the stadium. “Don’t Panic” was the second and final song from Parachutes to be performed, and it featured a hilarious backstory from Chris Martin who recounted Coldplay’s beginnings, and Jonny Buckland’s train wreck of a date (tuna salad) that led to this song. Band introductions continued, with Chris Martin teasing bassist Guy Berryman about his “Loreal advert skin and Colgate smile, sponsored by Pepsi.” Berryman had this classic, sheepish grin, bashful and somewhat embarrassed. The group introduced the final song of this sequence as the Instagram dedication. A fan made a video request, expressing that “Till Kingdom Come” embodied and symbolized her feelings for her husband. I had never really paid much attention to TKC in the past, but this performance was great and very touching. The group returned to the mainstage for the final, anthemic numbers of the night, closing the show with the trio of “Amazing Day,” “A Sky Full of Stars” and “Up & Up.” Sky Full of Stars was so appropriate, the clear Norcal sky opened up and provided a natural backdrop for the track, the starry sky appearing like pinholes in the curtain of night. The vocalists from the Oakland School for the Arts rejoined the group and accompanied them on “Up & Up,” their voices fleshing out the choruses and expanding the palette of sound. The combined voices and uplifting quality of the track made for a quasi-religious experience. It was positive and purifying. The whole gig was an amazing experience and worth every penny and then some. Underneath all the technology and glitz, the common denominator remained the music. I personally feel that the group could have performed on a flatbed truck with house lights only and they still would have enthralled the audience. They grabbed us with the music. Touched us with the connection. And blew our minds with the show. Coldplay gets mocked much in the same way U2 gets mocked. Both groups have loquacious and sometimes overbearing lead singers, and to many they’re inherently uncool because they wear their hearts on their sleeves. But I/we have no problem professing love for both groups (yes, you can love both). And there’s something especially charming about the way Chris Martin speaks to the audience. He’s a natural talker with a good sense of humility: personable, witty and engaging, making a stadium gig even smaller and more intimate. It was like he was having a casual conversation over coffee at arms reach. We’ll be returning for the second leg. Thanks, Coldplay. Anyone catch the Highlander reference?

Duran Duran + Chic featuring Nile Rodgers @ Irvine Meadows, Irvine CA 07/30/16

Chic were the perfect opener for Double D, a treat for the ears not to be missed. Personally selected by Duran Duran as their openers, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers rocked the early birds to full attention. Nile Rodgers said it himself, “we’re here to make you move!” and they did just that. Chic opened their set with a trio of 70s classics, “Everybody Dance,” “Dance Dance Dance” and “I Want Your Love.” Kimberly Davis on lead vox powered through those funk and r&b classics with flair and grace. She was on key, soulful, and soared above the band with elegance and power. Folami Ankoanda provided additional supporting and lead vocals, fleshing out the diva harmonies while making it sound like there were several women up there doing backgrounds. Davis and Ankoanda weren’t the only high quality talent, everyone in that group shined, from the horn players to the keys, to the rhythm section. Their drummer and bass player were unstoppable and the grooves were infectious. Chic was always known for having a powerhouse rhythm section. The legendary Tony Thompson and Bernard Edwards held the drumkit and bass positions with Chic during their heyday. Post Chic, Tony Thompson would go on to perform with Power Station (a Duran Duran related side project with Robert Palmer on vocals) as well as Led Zeppelin, Bowie, and Diana Ross, amongst many others. Bernard Edwards would become a prolific writer and producer, like Nile Rodgers, and go on to work with Debbie Harry, Norma Jean Wright, Sister Sledge and Diana Ross. Sadly, both legends passed away before their time due to illness: Thompson due to Kidney Cancer and Edwards due to Pneumonia. Current drummer and bassist, Ralph Rolle and Jerry Barnes, are bad-ass performers themselves, moving the Chic train along with an unrelenting rumble. Section by section, the crowd at Irvine Meadows got into the groove and the venue became one huge dance party, with the ultimate house band providing the beats. If you weren’t dancing or singing along, then you were at least smiling or wondering “what the hell’s going on?….this is cool!” At the close of the trio of Chic classics, Nile Rodgers explained that he had written and produced a number of Diana Ross tracks and they were going to launch into a medley. The group pulled off bitchin’ renditions of “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down,” then melting into Sister Sledge classics “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family.” It was cool seeing so many people respond to these 70s classics, showing those songs are just as vital and relevant now as they were when they were first recorded. The crowd surprised Rodgers before “I’m Coming Out.” Rodgers prepped the audience by teaching us the chorus, but the crowd beat him to it, singing the “…I want the world to know, got to let it shooow” part. Rodgers was all smiles.

The part of the set that sold me and made me a fan was the group’s soulful and devastatingly awesome version of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” This track was originally sung by Pharell Williams. Kim Davis and the rest of the group laid down an especially moving and funky version of the song. Russell Graham began the song on keyboards, delicately laying down the opening chords, whole notes, while Rodgers introduced the song and shared his cancer experience. Rodgers began his story with a polite “I don’t mean to bring you down…” as he shared his story about his cancer diagnosis over five year ago. It was an aggressive form of prostate cancer with a very poor prognosis. His physician advised him to “get his affairs in order.” Rogers expressed that for him personally, getting his affairs in order meant writing, recording, and touring more than he’d ever done before, including the session with Daft Punk and Pharell Williams. Rodgers said “So after that series of wonderful phone calls, we wrote this song called “Get Lucky,” and I feel like the luckiest man in the world tonight because I’m here with you and five and half years later, I’m cancer free…and we’re STILL funky. So every song that we play in our set is a song that I’ve written, and produced, or whatever, with somebody else or another artist, every one of these songs that you hear is a song that I’ve done. We are not a covers band, this is all my music. However, however there is one little catch, when we play these songs we always play ’em CHIC style, because, we are an R&B, funk, disco, dance band, and that’s just what the Hell we do. We wanna make you move! So we put a little extra soul into everything we do. Kimberly…show ’em what we talkin’ about, girl…” And then Kim Davis softly croons the opening lines “Like the legend of the Phoenix…” Many in the crowd were likely misty eyed or shed a tear. It was a powerful moment and Kim Davis continued to soar higher and higher, taking the chorus up an octave, singing from the gut, outsinging Williams’ performance on record. And the rest of the band joined in and delivered a thumpin’ version complete with horns and a keyboard solo by Graham. THIS was the way the song was meant to be performed, full of heart, with a female vocalist that could sing the hell out of this tune, plus a drummer with a killer backbeat. The previous numbers were good, great even. But this was the WOW moment, the moment we realized we were witnessing greatness. The next WOW moment came when Rodgers introduced his drummer, Ralphe Rolle, and shared that he had the pleasure of working with David Bowie in the early 80s. To those who don’t know, Nile Rodgers produced Bowie’s Let’s Dance album and Tony Thompson performed much of the drum work on it. Bernard Edwards played bass on “Without You.” Rodgers shared that he walked into a bar (he was with Billy Idol), and they found Bowie sitting in a corner. They talked shop and eventually got together for the Let’s Dance sessions. Rodgers added that live, he normally gives the responsibility of singing the most difficult song to the new drummer. Rolle said hello to the audience and the group tore into a perfect rendition of “Let’s Dance,” with Rolle drumming and providing lead vocals, successfully channeling David Bowie’s baritone. He even did those 8th notes on the woodblock during the pre-verse sections. The horns added extra color and funk and the crowd stayed on it’s feet. Chic’s set just went into the stratosphere. And it didn’t stop there! After a blistering Bowie song, the group launched into the Chic standard, “Le Freak.” And I couldn’t help but think of that scene in Toy Story 3, where Ken is trying on outfits for Barbie..ahhhh FREAK OUT!. And then the holy sh*t/WOW moment came when the group slid into their final number, “Good Times.” Keep in mind that the rhythm track to “Good Times” is the foundation for Sugar Hill Gang’s hip-hop classic, “Rapper’s Delight.” That bass line is one of the greatest hooks ever. If you’re not familiar with the tune, think back to that scene in The Wedding Singer where the little old lady (Ellen Albertini Dow) is rapping with Robbie Hart’s backing band. THAT’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Chic performed a very funkilicious version of “Good Times” which led to a bass solo by Jerry Barnes and a call and response section by Rodgers i.e. ‘woo-oooh, woo-oooh, now everyone screeaam!!!’ And then the keys, guitar and vocals rested, leaving only Barnes to play that bass hook with Ralphe Rolle backing him up on drums. Rodgers said “Feeeeel that old school grooove!” The duo continued for a couple bars. I turned to my wife and said “Ok, someone needs to start rapping.” Two more measures later and Rodgers busts out with “I said a hip..hop, the hippie, the hippie, to the hip hip hop, you don’t stop a rock it” and the crowd went freaking nuts. I was joyfully cracking up, not really believing what I was seeing. Rodgers and the group continued for a good while, it was an awesome spin on “Rapper’s Delight,” and people joined in on the rhyming. Kim Davis even did the “saaay whaaaaat?”part. And then the group transitioned back into “Good Times,” with the keys, slinky guitar and female vocals pulling the song back together. Holy f*cking shit! And so ended Chic’s stellar set. The group received a standing ovation. They gave so many people so much joy this evening. My mom was a teen in the 70s and she loves this stuff. I thought to myself, “Wow, my mom’s music is pretty damn cool.”

  1. Everybody Dance
  2. Dance Dance Dance
  3. I Want Your Love
  4. I’m Coming Out/Upside Down/He’s the Greatest Dancer/We Are Family
  5. Get Lucky
  6. Let’s Dance
  7. Le Freak
  8. Good Times/Rapper’s Delight/Good Times reprise

It was great to finally witness Duran Duran live. They were freaking DURAN DURAN. Video pioneers, pop giants, fashion icons, etc. etc. And they at one time had one of the greatest guitar players in their lineup, Warren Cuccurullo. I was too young to experience the Duran Duran mania of the early and mid 80s. What sold me was The Wedding Album in the 90s, “Ordinary World” in particular. I had been wanting to see Double D since around 2000. I REALLY wanted to see them around 2005 when all 5 original members reunited. The classic lineup reunion was short-lived and a session guitarist, Dom Brown has filled in on subsequent albums and tours. Dom Brown isn’t a bad guitar player. But what’s missing is that bitchin’ Andy Taylor tone and his knack for executing his guitar parts with style and flair. Watch the Live in London DVD and you’ll hear what I mean. Personally, I would have begged Warren Cuccurullo to come back as the 5th member of the group. But no, we have Dom Brown, and I suppose 4 out of 5 original members ain’t bad. Fast forward to early July 2016, the band announced that founding member, Nick Rhodes, would be taking a temporary leave from the group’s touring schedule to attend to family matters. Nick’s fill-in keyboard player would be MNDR, a Mark Ronson collaborator and adventurous singer/songwriter/producer in her own right. Damn it. Now we were down to 3 original members. It could be worse, but for me, the gig had lost a bit of its luster. Now what made this gig and this tour great was the fact that Duran Duran were on the road in support of the very well received Paper Gods. Nile Rodgers himself had a hand in the production of the album. Red Hot Chili Pepper alumnus and melody master John Frusciante played some guitar on the album! The band brought it with this release, and the tour showed that they weren’t a nostalgia act living off past glories. Duran Duran was earning critical praise on every tour stop, proving they could construct a set that represented their new musical chapter while showcasing their storied history, without an over-reliance on classic material. It was the perfect combination of new and old, and the new stuff complemented the older tracks astonishingly well. The set itself was around 90 minutes in length, 18 songs or so, with 4 of the new tracks off Paper Gods included.

While DD is often remembered as a “keyboard group,” their secret weapon is their rhythm section. Bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor are the groove masters of the band. They are tasteful dance-rock/funk players with an excellent ear for hooks and signature parts. And then of course there’s the voice. Simon Lebon is a crooner in a league of his own, a golden, signature voice. Simon’s sweet spot is the range he uses for songs like “Wild Boys” and “Notorious,” it’s that silky tone with a bit of raspiness to it. The group was in good form, festive, and joyfully laid down their parts. It was a very good performance, but I unfairly compared it to their performance on the Live in London DVD, they were firing on all cylinders on that gig and I rather naively expected the same kind of fireworks at this show. I forget that they’re short 2 original members and that London gig took place a decade ago, yikes. It was still a very strong performance and we were thrilled. It was a potent set around 100 minutes long. The selfish, rabid fan in me always hopes for more, but this set time was just enough to introduce the audience to the new music while showering us with some classics without losing the fans with short attention spans. Of special note were the performances with Nile Rodgers on guitar. He came out to play on “Notorious” and “Pressure Off.” A tribute to David Bowie was included midset. The group inserted a section of “Space Oddity” into “Planet Earth,” making for a very cool and musically appropriate medley.  A snippit of “New Moon On Monday” was included in “Reach Up For the Sunrise.” Several key tracks from the group’s back catalogue were represented, including “A View To a Kill,” “The Reflex,” I Don’t Want Your Love,” “Wild Boys,”  “Girls On Film,” “Come Undone,” “Ordinary World,” and three tracks from the Rio album including the title track and “Hungry Like the Wolf.” The final song of the night was “Save a Prayer,” also off Rio. Before the group began “Save a Prayer,” Simon LeBon addressed the crowd and said “Now every week we hear these tragic horror stories, things that go on, I mean France has suffered very badly in the last year, what with the truck at the market in Nice, and the Bataclan in November….the Charlie Hebdo office terrorist attack, as well as the things happening in Germany…and never mind the awful stuff that’s happening in Syria and Iraq, innocent people being killed. And we are fed a lot of this stuff and it gets quite depressing at times, and it takes a lot of strength in yourself to hold onto your sense of optimism. Now I know that you guys are optimists and believe in good. I know that because the other kind of people don’t come to rock concerts, music is something that brings people together, it crosses the boundaries of race, sex, color, religion, money! Music is something which makes people feel better about themselves.” Simon dedicated their last number, “Save a Prayer,” to those who believe that good will win.  “Save a Prayer,” LeBon referenced Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” as the song drew to a close. I hate to admit it, but months later I’m still thinking about Chic’s set. They had completely won me over and I still fondly think back to their performance. DD wasn’t bad at all, but for some reason their set didn’t resonate with me like I’d hoped it would. Maybe it had to do with Nick Rhodes’ absence. The other lacking ingredient was John Taylor’s backing vocals. The group employed female backing singers for this tour and they took over most of the harmonies. Usually, it’s John that fills in on the harmonies but he took a break from this set, focusing on his bass playing. I missed that voice. It was still a wonderful night out and I’m thankful and grateful that we got to see two of the greatest pop-funk groups in the business. Later I found out the group performed “The Chauffeur” at the Las Vegas gig. Damn it.