Saturday, October 22, 2011

The transhuman art of Duran Duran



Note: Pics are from "Time Out Chicago" and Jen Hernandez.

It has reached the point where any review I write of a Duran Duran concert will be redundant.

I've never seen them put on a truly bad show, so the spiel will unfold almost by numbers.  "They were incredible," "they rocked the house," "I've loved them for nearly 30 years," and so on and so forth all the live long day.  Their concert last night at the Chicago Theatre is certainly no exception to this.  The set selection was fairly solid overall and was more than enough to get this geek dancing.  Then again, if they just stood there and played out of tune funeral dirges, I would have been happy.  So in order to do something distinctive with this review, I thought that I would talk about the concert vis-a-vis a few of the usual subjects of Esoteric Synaptic Events.

The first thing I noticed upon walking into the hall, other than it was damn dark because I waited too long to take my seat, were the four mannequin faces suspended above the stage. 




White, blank, featureless other than obviously humanoid heads, they were somewhat unsettling in appearence.  I thought this to be a rather well-chosen prop as it sums up Duran pretty well.  It's glamour-related, it's somewhat Warhol in insipiration, and the creepiness of the blank faces reflects that edge, that underlying subversive theme that the band has always had yet has been neglected by so-called rock critics.  Just listen to "Night Boat" or "The Chauffeur" and drink in the gothy anomie.  You'll see what I mean. 

Little did I know that the mannequin heads were not only decorative but functional.



During the song, "Blame the Machines," the familiar black and green binary of The Matrix scrolled over the heads in rolling motions.  All this while clips from Fritz Lang's Metropolis played on the viewscreens behind the band.  "And now there's no way home, this love affair has ended.  I should have known when I bought into the dream.  So like your sonic soul to leave me lost and stranded.  I blame myself...and I blame the machines."  Many times, the lyrics of Simon Le Bon are left up to poetic interpretation.  I've always liked that about him.  Parents and other people would ask me, "what the hell do those lyrics mean?"  Well, what the hell does T.S. Eliot mean in The Waste Land?  Exactly.
Me, I choose to believe this song to be about someone who became addicted to cybernetic body replacements...and paid a price.

On and on behind the band there popped and overlayed juxtaposed, multi-colored squares.  Somewhat remincent of their Big Thing tour and record from 1988-89.  Mixed in with this were clips from the band's Second Life habitat and the avatars that dwell there. 

Speaking of Nick, "The Controller" was in fine form as usual last night within his bank of synthesizers and computers.  In his typical guyliner, he deftly manned the conn of the Starship Duran, steering the show to the artistic level I've come to expect from them.  Nowhere was this more evident than during the instrumental, "Tiger Tiger" from their landmark 1983 record, Seven and the Ragged Tiger.  Starting with Nick's layered synth sounds, the song progresses into that immediately recognizable, John Taylor (hands down the greatest bass player alive) bass line.  While this plays out on stage, tweets from fans both in the audience and on Twitter worldwide are scrolled onscreen.  Thanks to digital and mobile technology, it is now possible for fans to interact with their favorite bands in a way never before available.  Many "earthier" bands would probably never go for this.  That's ok.  Dinosaurs are cool.  I used to play with dino toys as a kid and I like seeing their bones in museums.  Duran, however, are demonstrating themselves to be on the cutting edge of technology as always.



And the mannequin heads just kept hanging there.  I started a bit during "The Reflex" as the individual faces of the band members supered up on the porcelain-white surfaces, one to a head.  With flat, robotic expressions they mouthed the "ta-na-na-na" refrain of the song.  Likewise the "wild boys, wild boys, wild boys" chant for the song of the same name.  Have I mentioned that "Wild Boys" was a song for a would-be film to be based on the titular William Burroughs story?  Of course I have.

Closing out the night, the band played "Rio" as they traditionally do. The iconic visage of the Nagel cover appeared on each mannequin face.  As the theater shook from the sonic force of the song, I could not think of a more perfect way for them to end the night.

Here's the set list from Duran Duran.com:

BEFORE THE RAIN
PLANET EARTH
A VIEW TO A KILL
ALL YOU NEED IS NOW
BLAME THE MACHINES
COME UNDONE
SAFE
REFLEX
THE MAN WHO STOLE A LEOPARD
GIRL PANIC
IS THERE SOMETHING I SHOULD KNOW?
TIGER TIGER
CARELESS MEMORIES
LEAVE A LIGHT ON
ORDINARY WORLD
NOTORIOUS
HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF
SUNRISE
[encore]
WILD BOYS
RIO      


Brilliant show, fellas.  I eagerly anticipate your return. 
But then that's redundant, isn't it?  



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