Making our way to the Chumash Grand Arena entrance at the California Mid-State Fair on Wednesday night, my friend and I cut through a shopping area and bumped into a mutual acquaintance, a fellow wearing Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots, as he was eyeballing a gun safe for sale.
“We’re going to see the show,” my companion told him. “You going?”
“Duran Duran?” he said with a laugh. “Hell no!”
Poor guy missed one hell of a show.
On tour promoting new album “Paper Gods,” the Birmingham band that helped define that “Miami Vice”-era sound played for a crowd of more than 6,000 people in Paso Robles, following opening act Nile Rodgers and Chic. It was one of the most energetic, well-produced and expertly mixed shows this fan of New Wave music has seen in a very long time.
Lead singer Simon Le Bon, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor were without keyboardist and founding member Nick Rhodes, who left the tour earlier this month due to an “urgent family matter.” Instead, the band was joined by keyboardist MNDR, who channeled Rhodes’ iconic analog synth fills without missing a beat.
Every song had its own energy. An elaborate video monitor setup mixed sexy 1980s montages with live footage of the band, and a synchronized light show lent each tune its own color scheme and visual character. It was among the best I’ve ever seen.
Highlights of the night included a cannon blast of pink confetti that blanketed the crowd following an especially funky bass- and percussion-heavy “Notorious,” and the streaking light that burned across the night sky during “What Are the Chances” that left the crowd wondering if the pieces of a Chinese rocket re-entering the atmosphere were part of the show.
The tops, however, was a hard-rocking surprise cover of the Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash classic “White Lines,” which had every person in the audience moving.
And while most bands loathe staring out into a sea of cell phone cameras, Le Bon urged the audience to “light up the stars” with their devices during an endearing version of “Save A Prayer,” before bursting into fan favorite “Rio” and sending four oversized beach balls dancing over the crowd.
Duran Duran may always be the butt of jokes from folks who don’t look back fondly on music of the Reagan era, but Wednesday’s show was no joke. Le Bon and the wild boys still got it.