The theme of World Fantasy Con this year was Ghosts and Revenants, so maybe it was appropriate that on the night following the last day of WFC, I found myself in the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway in NYC, listening to the revitalised 1980s pop-rock band Duran Duran as Simon Le Bon and the boys premiered their soon-to-be-released new album, Red Carpet Massacre (see tasteful cover below), and then gave us a generous serving of Old Stuff (with a burst of Germanic techno-rock inbetween).
This is the story: we are due to fly straight to London after WFC, but Cat notices that Duran Duran are in NYC for a series of concerts. After consultation we change our flight to allow us an extra day or two so that she can see her fav band perform. I’m no Duran Duran fan, only really knowing their work via hits such as “Girls on Film” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” — and listening to the albums echo through the house when Cat plays them at bath time. But Cat is a big fan and has never seen them live. So I have no objection to going; a rock concert on Broadway sounds fine. Alisa Krasnostein, who is travelling with us, knows even less about the Durans (I’m not sure she was even born when they started out), but says “Why not? Might be fun.”
So we pay the rather large amount for the tickets and in due course enter the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway with the excited crowd. The Barrymore is a beautiful, lush, old-style theatre — relatively small and intimate — but the stage has been re-configured with equipment, rock-style lighting arrays and screens that can be raised and moved about. The fans look like they’re attending a Broadway musical rather that a rock concert, which is sort of nice. But the crowd isn’t just made up of 30/40-something ex-girl-screamers; there’s plenty of blokes, too, and an age-range that doesn’t get too long-in-the-tooth (I’m probably the upper limit) or down to the teenyboppers, but it does have a wider range than I expected. Nevertheless, there’s a definite air of aging 1980s fandom.
So it begins.
The first set is the new album played in full. It’s hard to judge how good it is as an album without further listenings, but I reckon the boys played well and the songs are Duran Duran-ish, one or two offering definite hit possibility, but with a few less pop-oriented ones that I find both lyrically and musically more interesting. Simon no longer sports the svelte figure of his youth and can’t do the “moves” as well as he used to, but his voice is fine. They don’t embarrass themselves, I reckon — apart from those updated faux-80s uniforms (see pic above) and Simon’s initiating comment “We’re grown up now” … followed by songs sporting the usual pop-inane lyrics (though, as I say, there are exceptions). I’ve seen a few old rock outfits performing of late — The Manfreds (sans Manfred Mann), Yes, Queensryche, The Who; of these, Pete Townsend was the best at being in his 50s yet still leaping around as energetically as ever. The rest were more sedate to start with, but in the 2000s they didn’t feel compelled to try and recreate their once youthful demeanour. But their musicianship was as good or better than ever. The Durans, on the other hand, look a little like they’re trying too hard, though the effect is entertaining enough, even for a non-fan like me. Of course, Alisa tells a different story. Despite the noise and excited crowd, she falls asleep! Afterwards she reckons they were cheesy and boring. This is one extreme. The other is that it was an awesome concert. The truth lies somewhere between — and in the eye of the beholder, I guess. Here is Cat’s take. As I say, I’m not a fan, but I thought it was a good concert. Not faultless, but professional and, at its best, full of energy.
Whether right or wrong my impression is that the first set — the new album — had been thoroughly planned and organised by some clueless if enthusiastic marketing/PR dude functioning under the delusion that it’s a good idea for new albums by old rockers to be presented in so glitzy a fashion that the fans’ critical facilities will be blindsided. Each song was choreographed, with different lighting effects, images flashing on different arrangements of screens, big and small, and slightly pretentious patter from Simon. It’s not really necessary. The band members play well, and all the scripting seems merely to restrain them. This was followed by a very odd Kraftwerk-inspired rendition of a couple of their songs — rather tongue-in-cheek, it seems to me. Or not. Whatever. It’s when they get into their old stuff that the Durans suddenly come fully alive — focused and in-the-moment. The crowd ramps up a 100%, too, with audience reaction at a peak. And why not? The Durans must be totally familiar with these songs and can relax into the music itself. They do an intelligent mix of pop hits such as “Planet Earth” and “Girls on Film” and other less well-known, more “serious” songs from later in their career. Cat is ecstatic as these latter are the ones she loves best, even if they are not typical fan favourites. During this final set I look out over the crowd and, apart from one or two indifferent hubbies (and Alisa), everyone is into it, clapping, singing along, unselfconsciously doing a somewhat more mature impersonation of the “screaming fan” than they did 20 years ago.
Meanwhile Cat’s excitement goes on. Tomorrow the album comes out in Australia. I have, of course, put the deluxe CD/DVD edition on pre-order for her.