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Simon Le Bon, John Taylor, and guitarist Dom Brown tear up the City Stage at Bluesfest. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Bluesfest International Highlights: Duran Duran

By Terry Steeves on July 18, 2016

The Bluesfest grounds were turned into an enormous outdoor dance club on Saturday night, when a massive crowd gathered in front of the City Stage for legendary UK new wave/pop giants Duran Duran. Thirty-eight years after their inception, they are still making waves across the globe, carrying with them a legion of fans that continues to grow. Back in the days of MTV, their sensually-toned and professionally polished music videos gave the band added mystique, which heightened their popularity, and were a staple of every ’80s dance bar. In the UK, they became known as ‘The Fab Five’ and were embraced by Princess Diana as her favourite band.

Bassist and founding member of Duran Duran, John Taylor. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Bassist and founding member of Duran Duran, John Taylor. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Last year they released Paper Gods (2015), which featured guest appearances by ex-Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, as well as Nile Rodgers, Lindsay Lohan, Janelle Monáe, and Canadian diva Kiesza. During their Bluesfest performance, Duran Duran gave the crowd a taste of the album, which rounded out their generous 17-song set list.

The show set off to a thunderous start, amplified with the roar of the crowd, after which they delved straight into the title track from their new album. It displayed all the infectious energy of their signature Duran Duran sound, in a bass-heavy thumping rhythm. Several past favourites would follow—“Wild Boys,” the primal “Hungry Like The Wolf,” the 1985 James Bond theme, “A View To A Kill,” and the gorgeously flowing “Come Undone,” which backing vocalist Erin Stevenson brought to ethereal dimensions. Second backing vocalist Anna Ross had her time to shine on “Last Night In The City,” a song from the new album which features Kiesza’s treatment. I loved its disco-pumping rhythm and electronica tones, adorned with Ross’s crystalline vocals. Both women were featured on my favourite Paper Gods track, “Pressure Off,” laden in multi-vocal bliss and dance fever energy.

Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon.Photo by Terry Steeves.

Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon. Photo by Terry Steeves.

The band’s line-up consisted of original members John Taylor (bass), Roger Taylor (drums), and of course lead vocalist, Simon Le Bon, who looked his ageless and suave self, with vocal cords very much intact. Original keyboardist, Nick Rhodes was temporarily replaced on this tour by American artist, MNDR, and Dom Brown has remained Duran Duran’s lead guitarist since 2006. Sax player, Simon Willescroft joined the tour, and backing vocalist sensations, Anna Ross and Erin Stevenson were also on board.

A blast of confetti filled the air above the crowd, as the band began playing their debut 1981 single, “Planet Earth,” which took a wonderfully surprising turn into Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” I reveled in the gorgeous melody of “Ordinary World,” and was impressed to see that it was Le Bon who sang the song’s iconic higher vocal parts at the end. Both Ross and Stevenson came out to strut the front of the stage with Le Bon on “White Lines,” where they created a dance frenzy, while Brown laid down a great rock-heavy guitar solo. The girls sang a catchy intro that kicked into “The Reflex,” and suddenly, my ’80s dancing days came to life on the field, blissfully shrouded in the song’s amplified sound.

The dance craze continued with more from 1981 in “Girls On Film,” which brought the show to a close, and left the audience screaming for more. They returned, where Le Bon sported a t-shirt with ‘1978’ emblazoned across it, which was the year of the band’s formation. He spoke to the audience about the latest tragedy in France and the demoralization felt by the world in the wake of these events. “We’d like to play this song as a statement of defiance. Music is something that is a force for good—we can’t give up hope—we have to believe that it will get better. Take out your cell phones and let the stars come out in this darkness.” The crowd proceeded to light up the Bluesfest grounds as the band played “Save A Prayer.”

A fuzz-blasting guitar chord resounded that broke into “Rio,” which left the dancing crowd with one final nostalgic wave, and featured another great sax solo by Willescroft. Several giant beach balls were tossed out into the audience, as the song built into an electrifying ending. The band lingered on the stage to wave their goodbyes, and lap up the love from the adoring crowd who didn’t want to let them go. Le Bon’s nice finishing touch: “You all deserve the good things you’re gonna get!” left me in smiles, and tied up a perfect ending to a perfect evening.