Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island
Friday, September 1, 2023
Review by Jeff Elbel. Photos by Philamonjaro (arriving soon, pending approval by the artist’s management).
With temperatures in the mid-70s and clear skies, it was a perfect Friday night in the fading summer for a concert outdoors along Lake Michigan. ‘80s alternative-pop survivors Duran Duran arrived at Northerly Island with a generous selection of effervescent and emblematic hit songs. The English quintet also offered engaging fare from 2021’s Future Past.
A Blade Runner-styled sci-fi film heralded the band’s entrance. One billboard in the clip’s retro-futuristic skyline announced, “Open A.I. Takes Control.” The band took the stage to a roar from its multigenerational audience as the four original members stood shoulder to shoulder. Singer Simon LeBon and bassist wore sport jackets over t-shirts and white sneakers, reminiscent of characters from Miami Vice. Drummer Roger Taylor wore a black collared shirt with broad red stripes extending from the collar. Reserved keyboardist Nick Rhodes was resplendent in a sparkling suit with exaggerated shoulder peaks and a frilly ascot.
The audience was packed with 50-somethings who remembered Duran Duran from its Reagan/Thatcher-era heyday leading up to 1985’s Live Aid performance. There were also younger devotees who likely never saw a music video on MTV.
The music began with the tense and haunted “Night Boat” from the band’s 1981 debut album, led by LeBon’s inimitable voice and anchored by John Taylor’s virtuoso bass playing. The angst-ridden song’s refreshed arrangement is included on the upcoming Halloween-themed album Danse Macabre. Roger Taylor’s thumping rhythm announced “Wild Boys” with its call-and-response chorus. LeBon hit the high notes with power but gave the chorus chant to the audience for the first of many singalong moments of communion.
LeBon gave thanks for the beautiful evening and remarked upon the waning but bright supermoon rising over Lake Michigan. “How much is that moon, baby?” said the sweet-talking singer. “It’s priceless. It’s half the cost of you.” The band then leapt into the hot-blooded “Hungry Like the Wolf,” augmented by saxophonist Simon Willescroft and singers Anna Ross and Rachael O’Connor.
LeBon had puns and quips ready to introduce many songs. “Okay, we’ve broken the ice,” he said while teeing up the next selection. “Now it’s time for us to BOND.” Following the James Bond theme and onscreen images of Roger Moore, the band performed its soundtrack feature “A View to a Kill.” The song was punctuated by funky guitar stabs from longtime sideman Dominic Brown.
Throughout the evening, the band’s stylish and accessible fusion of sounds revealed roots in forebears, including Roxy Music, Japan, and opening band Chic featuring guitarist and Notorious album producer Nile Rodgers. The latter album’s title cut was a slice of slinky funk. The sonic links extended to newer material, including “Give it All Up,” which LeBon sang in a duet with O’Connor. “Yeah, nice one, Rach!” said an enthusiastic LeBon afterward.
Rhodes coaxed warm string swells from his keyboards while Brown played glistening arpeggios during “Lonely in Your Nightmare.” The Taylors supplied a bedrock groove, and LeBon’s rich melody glided over it all. Woven into the song was a rousing cover of Rick James’ “Super Freak.” Although the mashup was not announced explicitly for inclusion during the concert, the Danse Macabre track listing includes an entry called “Super Lonely Freak.”
Duran Duran returned to its early days for signature 1983 single “Is There Something I Should Know?,” and paired it with Future Past track “Anniversary.” The upbeat newer song tapped the party-starting energy of its vintage counterpart.
LeBon swapped his white sport coat for a day-glow green leather jacket as the band began “Friends of Mine” accompanied by eerie footage from classic monster movies. The fun continued with sophomore single “Careless Memories” and Brown’s slashing guitar lines atop a hyper–charged synthpop rhythm. The influential sound echoed through other songs from the period, like Berlin’s 1981 single “The Metro.”
LeBon paused again to bask in the beautiful night and recognize the gathering of a great bunch of people. “Ourselves included,” he quipped. LeBon introduced the next selection as a song about self-redemption and about making the most of life with all of its ups and downs. He then made a wish for peace and happiness while dedicating the resolute and soothing “Ordinary World” to people experiencing profound hardship in Maui and Ukraine. Released in 1993 on Duran Duran (aka The Wedding Album), the single reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and marked the band’s staying power and relevance at a time when many had written off Duran Duran.
“Come Undone” was another second-wave success in 1993, reaching the Top Ten. LeBon identified the song as one of his personal favorites. “This song is smooth, nice and easy, and just a little bit sexy,” he said. LeBon shared the song and its hypnotic, downtempo groove in a playful duet with background singer Anna Ross.
Debut single, “Planet Earth,” was a blast of adrenaline propelled by Roger Taylor’s club-friendly beat and John Taylor’s galloping bass line. LeBon marked the song as a salute to his peers in the New Romantic movement that gave birth to the New Wave sound of the ‘80s. It was also another chance to feature Willescroft’s supple saxophone. After making band introductions, LeBon bungled an entrance but diverted well. “Thank God you lot know where to come in,” he said with an impish smile, thanking the crowd for their support. The singer sprayed the front rows with a mouthful of water during a bristling cover of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s “White Lines.”
LeBon’s vocal performance at Northerly Island wasn’t note-perfect or flawless, but he sang every song with emotion and outsized personality. Old standards and fresh fare were delivered with equal commitment. Perhaps more importantly, it looked like the whole band was having actual fun. Even the comparably stoic Rhodes joined LeBon while clowning around during a euphoric performance of “The Reflex.” John Taylor often met LeBon at the center stage microphone to join voices during a chorus.
“Put on your best smiles and selfie faces because Nick is gonna take your picture,” said LeBon. From his keyboard riser, Rhodes raised a pocket camera to his eye while the sound of a photographer’s rapid-fire shutter introduced the irrepressible dance stomper “Girls on Film.” The song provided a feature for Roger Taylor’s drumming before the band segued into a self-aware cover of Calvin Harris’ 2007 single “Acceptable in the ‘80s.” Afterward, Duran Duran took its bow and left the stage.
Returning for an encore, LeBon demanded, “Let me hear your voice!” Basking in the ensuing cheer, the singer said emphatically, “That is the sound of a good time.” The band then performed a sublime version of “Save a Prayer,” marked by Rhodes’ exotic synthesizer melody and an emotive audience singalong. The keyboardist donned a golden captain’s hat to match his shimmering suit.
The show concluded with the celebratory title track, “Rio.” John Taylor’s dazzling bass work inspired spontaneous dancing throughout the venue and sent fans home on a high note.
Duran Duran continues to willingly represent the decade that catapulted it to fame. Screens behind the band often showed throwback images to the 80s, with iconic emblems including a racing DeLorean or a towering recreation of the video game Space Invaders. The nostalgia factor was undeniable and unapologetic, and the audience in Chicago was treated to a great evening of musical escapism. Fortunately, Duran Duran provides this service with a setlist stuffed with memorable songs delivered with technical mastery. The band’s newer songs from Future Past make the case for an ongoing creative spark. Fans can anticipate a return visit to support songs from Danse Macabre or other new work as Duran Duran continues to celebrate the ‘80s while stepping into the future.
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