Duran Duran have learned the power of collaboration. For nearly two hours on Wednesday, the band convened an inspired array of talent for a concert at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles – performing with vocalists Beth Ditto, Gerard Way and Kelis, and guitarist-producer Mark Ronson, while Blue Velvet director David Lynch captured it live on-camera for a worldwide online audience.
“Millions of people around the planet are watching this right now,” announced singer Simon Le Bon, bearded and trim at 52, and sounding as thrilled as any of the hundreds of fans crowding the dance floor.
The night’s 19-song set-list delivered the new romantic pop hits from the Eighties but was also heavy on material from Duran Duran’s new album, All You Need Is Now, produced by Ronson and already the band’s best-reviewed release this millennium. (The show was the latest in the American Express “Unstaged” series, which matches musicians with filmmakers.)
The core quartet of Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor were reinforced with four other musicians (and an occasional four-piece string section), plus two of Lynch’s cameramen wandering the stage. Inside the Mayan, fans saw Duran Duran much as always, with only minimal lighting effects. Online, the show was recognizably Lynchian, photographed in murky black-and-white, and with wisps of smoke and fire, bleak objects and dead animals superimposed over the band.
They were joined first by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, who arrived in a black suit and Crayola-red hair to sing a swelling, languorous “Planet Earth” with Le Bon. Near the front row, a true believer in a plaid trilby hat held up Rolling Stone‘s 1984 cover of Duran Duran, heralding “The Fab Five.”
On a funk-fueled “Notorious,” Le Bon sang a duet with Gossip singer Ditto, who was all warmth and bite in high heels and a black-and-white dress that moved like an Escher drawing as she shook her hips. “You are the something else,” Le Bon told her with a hug when it was done. Ditto replied, “You’re the real deal!”
Kelis was a sultry, elegant presence beside blue-eyed loverman Le Bon, with a personal mike stand that lit up with colors that changed from red to blue to orange to yellow. Together they sang the romantic “The Man Who Stole a Leopard” and “Come Undone” to simple pulsating melodies from Rhodes. Brooding love songs aside, the mood was mostly celebratory, and late in the set, Le Bon even attempted a joke to fill time during a short break from the online stream: “How do you make a goat drink? Put it in a blender!”
At the crowded afterparty wound down, Ronson packed up his gear while considering the evening, and hearing the new songs live for the first time. “It’s a lot to say that you can play something from an album that came out yesterday against these hits of 30 years,” he said. “This new stuff kind of holds up. It has the attitude and spirit of the original stuff and I’m glad the fans seem to like it.”
Duran Duran Unstaged [Vevo]