What better way to brighten a rainy spring day than to spend the evening with the slick British pop of Duran Duran, and the infectious funk of Chic and Nile Rodgers? The Bell Centre crowd got plenty of chances to get its groove on all night long, singing and dancing along to old favourites and discovering new material.
The evening started with Shamir, a young american singer-songwriter who had the thankless task of preceding two legends, while playing in front of a deserted Bell Centre. People in the 200’s were being relocated to the lower bowl and for a while it looked like the evening would be a disaster, but people kept streaming in until halfway through Chic’s set. Shamir’s counter-tenor voice is a little peculiar at first, as it flies over his sometimes complicated soul music that is hard to peg to one genre. The few people who showed up on time gave him and his band a polite reaction.
After a really quick changeover, Chic, led by legendary songwriter/producer Nile Rodgers, took the stage. It is often said that an opening act’s role is to warm up the crowd, and if that’s the criteria, then Chic gave a masterclass in opening a show. Digging through their catalog, as well as songs Rodgers wrote for other artists, Chic’s infectious grooves and disco/funk beats lit a musical fire in the audience who quickly got on their feet and danced. Classics like “We Are Family”, “Get Lucky” or “Let’s Dance” were all played Chic-style, and the band’s own hits like “Le Freak” and “Good Times” (with a little bit of “Rapper’s Delight” thrown in) never sounded better. Rodgers influence on popular music, both as a producer and songwriter is immense, and it was a real pleasure to hear a legend in action. Their one hour set just flew by as if it’d lasted a few minutes.
And now it was time for the pretty boys of pop. The band has a new album out, “Paper Gods”, and they weren’t shy about playing songs from it. They took to the stage with the title track of the album and went on to play 5 songs from it. Unfortunately people seemed quite unfamiliar with them, a real shame since a copy of the album was offered with each ticket purchased. The more danceable material, like “Last Night in the City” still got a good reaction at least.
“Bonjour. Bienvenue. Nous sommes Duran Duran.” Simon LeBon’s every move, every word, was met with roars of approval. The second song was “Wild Boys”, followed by “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Then the famous James Bond gunbarrel intro was projected on the screen, with Roger Moore casually shooting at the audience to launch “A View to a Kill”. It became obvious that singer Simon LeBon’s upper register is shot; anytime he needed to reach those high note it sounded like his vocal cords were scrubbed with sand paper. But he still has that unmistakable twang in his voice, and he sounded great when the songs avoided the high register, and to be honest, no one seemed to mind, and it never was as bad as it was on this song.
“I sense a presence on stage. I sense greatness.” It would have been a missed opportunity to not include Nile Rodgers into the act, considering how often he’s worked with Duran Duran during their career. Rodgers brought his signature funky guitar riffs to “Notorious” and “Pressure Off” from “Paper Gods” (he produced the album) and took the songs to the next level. “Danceophobia” is probably the only “Paper Gods” track that should have been kept out of the set, or at least not played so close to the climax; its euro-dance trappings seemed out of place and did not resonate with the crowd who sat back down.
“Planet Earth” got extended with “Space Oddity” in a nice tribute to the late David Bowie. Duran Duran ended their set with their breakthrough single “Girls on Film”, and after a short break, a planned encore of “Save a Prayer” and “Rio” closed the night. Or so you’d think.
As soon as the band started walking off stage, the crowd started chanting “Re-flex! Re-flex!” LeBon waved to his bandmates and pointed at the crowd, raising his shoulders. “Why not?” So the band came back to play “The Reflex”, a song that hasn’t been part of the setlist since the first show of this leg of the tour. In an era where the cynical fake encore rules, it was nice to see a spontaneous gesture like this.
The classic material was often slightly reworked to give it a slight contemporary edge (and let’s be honest remove some of the 80’s stigma), and it worked very well. The music of Duran Duran has endured because it’s catchy and well constructed, and their newer material shows us a band that keeps expanding its horizons while staying true to its roots and core. I went in not expecting much but spent a great evening listening to great songs. That’ll chase the Monday blues away.