Few bands do highs and lows as extreme and as frequently as Duran Duran. For every Rio and reunion tour (five sold out nights at Wembley Arena when the “fab five” reunited in the early ‘00s) there’s a questionable covers album (Thank You, featuring their take on Public Enemy’s ‘911 Is A Joke’) and collaboration (the Timbaland/Timberlake featuring Red Carpet Massacre).
Following a few years of almost obscurity, the band (still four of the aforementioned five) have returned from their studio hideout to rave reviews, their first British festival headline slot (Bestival), more lifetime achievement awards to add to the collection and some of their best chart appearances for years. But how will Paper Gods – an album with almost as many guests as a Band Aid reunion – be received on tour?
Bloom Twins open the show show; as an act who blend fashion and mesmerising beats to create what they refer to as “dark pop” it’s not difficult to see the link between these Ukrainian sisters and the jet-setting headliners. Singles ‘Fahrenheit’ and ‘Blue’ sound as impressive live as on record, the intricate details combining with strong, poetic lyrics. With Nick Rhodes on hand to oversee future recordings, and support from MTV, Bloom Twins’ future looks set to blossom sometime very soon.
The electro-heavy 7, Seal’s most recent release, covers the robotics of Duran that the Bloom Twins don’t. With ‘Killer’ appearing early in the set, it’s up to the new tracks to keep momentum, and tracks like ‘Padded Cell’ do just that; with stage presence strong, his voice on point and the beats bold, with enough beeps in between to appeal to an ‘80s favouring crowd. Despite all that, ‘Kiss From A Rose’ is expectedly anthemic.
Before Le Bon, Rhodes and two of the remaining Taylors (bassist John and drummer Roger) take to the stage it’s clear that the audience is split. “I’ve heard they open with a new one,” Gigslutz overhears one fifty-something fan comment unsurely, while those in t-shirts and hats sporting the Paper Gods cover clearly welcome the new material, rather than hearing ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ for the hundredth time.
Surely enough, the Mr Hudson featuring (on stage as on record) monk-wail opening to the new album’s title track leads straight into ‘The Wild Boys’ and ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’. The band have been guilty of relying on the hits for set lists before, but not only do Paper Gods tracks feature heavily; 1993’s The Wedding Album gets a look in, with obvious inclusion ‘Ordinary World’ as well as the first live outings of ‘Love Voodoo’ and ‘Too Much Information’ for many years.
While the funky numbers from Paper Gods blend seamlessly (the Nile Rodgers featuring 2015 single ‘Pressure Off’ near the Nile Rodgers featuring 1986 single ‘Notorious’), album track ‘Only In Dreams’ is perhaps just for the die-hard fans. As well as Mr Hudson appearing during the new tracks (and the timeless debut, ‘Planet Earth’), Linsay Lohan is a special guest at The o2 only, reprising her spoken-word role as a doctor during ‘Danceophobia’, and returning in a gold-glitter outfit for the evening’s closer, ‘Rio’.
But the most poignant and acknowledged moment of the night comes during ‘Save A Prayer’. Originally the band’s first ballad, recounting the beauty of a one-night stand, the song has become something else in 2015. Eagles Of Death Metal covered it on their most recent album, having not-long finished performing it before their Paris gig – and the lives of many of those singing along to the chorus – was tragically cut short.
Simon Le Bon dedicates the track to the music fans who didn’t make it home from the gig, and while lighting arenas with mobile phone lights has been a favourite of their’s since Nokia 3210s were the favoured model, the thousands of smartphone spotlights represent something else during this tour. Humble, self-deprecating (“Let’s talk about what it’s like to be an ancient band”) and with a set-list shaken up to cover their more obscure moments, Paper Gods On Tour is testament to a band no-longer relying on their ‘80s heyday (neither of their UK #1s are played), and whose current high will hopefully be followed by something higher.