I know some of you out there have been waiting for my review of Saturday night’s show at Harrah’s Rincon near Valley Center, California. Well, wait no longer!
I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and so I tried my very best to go into this show with no expectations. Not an easy feat for any fan. I kept telling myself that the show would be a success as long as they actually played, and the rest would take care of itself.
To begin with, the venue is odd. It’s an open air temporary stage that the hotel/resort/casino erects each summer – and since this is Southern California, it’s still very much summer-like weather here. (At least until tomorrow, when we are to expect our first bit of rain – but even then, it won’t last long and we should be back to 70 and 80 degree F weather by the weekend, I am sure.) Valley Center is inland San Diego county, very much high desert type weather and topography, and the hotel/casino is on an Indian Reservation. This particular resort is the farthest inland in this area, which means that after taking one of the main freeways (major highways) to get here, one must travel on much smaller twisty-turny back roads for anywhere from 20 to about 45 minutes to get to the resort. Basically, one really has to want to get to this place to go there – you’re not gonna just stumble upon it while out for a drive and say “Hey, lets go see Duran Duran tonight!” Hardly. I can’t speak for every casino outside of Vegas, but I can say that at least in the instance of many of the casino/hotels in this area (there are a few), they attract the over 60 crowd many times over the under 40 crowd. Whereas Vegas has the allure of world-class clubs, famous chefs with restaurants to match and that certain slickness that goes along with expensive nights on the town, these places have very little of that atmosphere. The closest thing to a dance club that Harrah’s has is the Oasis Lounge, which is indoors; or the poolside cabana club, which is outdoors. Both had bands playing that night prior to the concert, although neither could entice many away from their slot machine of choice. One comes to these resorts to gamble, not to party their cares away. It’s a very different vibe from the glitterati that many of the Vegas hotels and casinos have these days. Once you crack the fragile shell of “Yes, this is a casino and should contain the prospects for an all-night party”, you realize this is very different egg. This is not Vegas, this is not Duran’s typical crowd, and yet we’re hoping for a typical show. What’s typical, anyway?
While Valley Center is really not that far in distance from my house in South Orange County (if you’re gonna come visit, call first!), those snake-like back roads made the trip feel as though it took days. By the time we got to the resort, I was starving and according to my husband – “raging like a mad woman”. (Perhaps next time my husband will acquiesce to my request that we stop at In-N-Out along the way….just saying.) I don’t see how different that is from normal, but I digress. Once parked, which seemed to take a monumental effort in patience and skill, we went on the hunt to find Will Call, get our tickets, then find dinner. Needless to say, by the time we did eat, I suspect my husband was ready to drive home without me. I believe at one point the words “Go ahead, I’ll just catch a ride home with Dom and Roger!” may have escaped my lips. Good thing my husband doesn’t typically listen! After rushing through a quick dinner (we ate at Pink’s there in the casino, which in my opinion is not nearly as good as the original Pink’s in Hollywood. Not even close.), we had to walk very quickly through the casino and out to the Open Sky Theater, only to be told that while there is a VIP entrance, it’s only for casino members. (Annoying, but not really a big deal in the end) So we walked through the regular entrance and got to our seats during Neon Trees’ first song.
I need to say here that Neon Trees only played a 30 minute set, and for as popular as they are – there was NO one standing. They received the same sort of lackluster greeting as any other opening band I’ve ever seen, which is funny considering that by all accounts and purposes on today’s charts – they are bigger than Duran Duran. (to everyone else BUT Duran Duran fans, of course) I just don’t believe that the Duran Duran audience is all that helpful to the group in general, regardless of how much a few fans that I know love them. That said, the Saturday night crowd in attendance that night was unusual in many respects. Generally speaking, Neon Trees had all of the power of a good performance that would have gotten any other crowd on their feet, but when the lead singer looks out into the audience and ridicules them for sitting – it’s all going downhill from there. He had lost control of the audience at that point, and up until (and even through most of) their final song “Animal”, I just don’t think he ever gained their attention. There were the remote few that stood up along the railing, but out of an audience of 4200 in attendance, the 20 or so people who stood up were the remote few, and were never acknowledged. I think the lead singer has a lot to learn when it comes to taking command of the stage and keeping his ego in check, especially under those types of difficult circumstances – so perhaps this tour will be a good learning experience for the group as a whole. I doubt they gained many more fans the night I saw them, that is for sure.
Duran Duran took the stage at about 20 minutes after 9 by my watch, and they opened with Before the Rain. I must say that I don’t know how well that song really went over. I think that for the band – it’s a great opener because rather than open by gangbusters and blow Simon’s voice straight out of the gate, the set builds to a crescendo. The trouble is, that particular song is not well known to the average Duran concert goer that was shocked to see that they’re still playing these days and says “Hey honey, let’s get tickets!”. This brings up one major difference I can note in their overall performance this tour, they’ve learned how to correctly build a setlist…even if it’s built with the wrong damn songs in some cases. (yes, that’s my personal critique of their song choices!) There’s a warm up, a build, a peak, then a cool down, and repeat. The setlist is built to accommodate resting periods for Simon. (and really, for all of them in some respects) In any case, the song was done very, very well and yes – Simon sounded strong. I have to say that on a personal note, I would stop and listen carefully every time I knew there would be a chance of strain in his voice – particularly when I knew he had struggled in the past – and all in all, I heard none of that, not even in obvious places such as A View to a Kill (the end) or even in Come Undone (again, at the end). Truthfully, I was surprised and yes, I’m a cynic I suppose.
There were many, many highlights to this show, and not all of them were due to outstanding performance! For instance, Simon incorrectly introduced Girl Panic at one point, only to have Nick emphatically shake his head “No”. Then John took the pleasure in kindly busting his chops properly over the microphone for all to hear. “This happens every night in one way or another, doesn’t it Simon? You’ve got this thing called a SET LIST right there….” To which Simon replies that he doesn’t really NEED a set list, but that he sees that some set list nazi had one printed up for him and so he supposes he’d better look at it. Simon retaliated again later during the song when he ad-libbed his own lyrics; saying something to the effect that he knows the RIGHT setlist and that he’ll sing it his way a million times every night. Anyone who knows the words to Girl Panic could tell right away that Simon was making up his own lines and there was quite a bit of laughter from the audience. Either that, or it was just me laughing away on my own. At another point Simon was backing up and John was immediately behind him on the riser, smiling away at Simon because it was obvious that Simon had no idea John was right behind him…and then there was a brief moment that I thought Dom was going to end up in a heap off of the stage because Simon coaxed Dom out onto a giant speaker with him, but then kind of bumped him unintentionally. The look on Dom’s face was priceless and I suspect our guitarist has a fear of heights because he got off said speaker and back onto the safety of the stage rather promptly after that. He did venture back out there later in the show, but only for a second before getting back into safe territory, back away from the edge. Can’t say I blame him, either! It was good to see humor brought into the show, and it’s in those moments where you can see that the band not only works well together, they genuinely still like one another.
If you’re a fan of Simon’s dancing (it reminds me of watching my dad try and dance to my “crazy” music – as he called it – when I was a kid!), fear not – he doesn’t disappoint! His dramatic facial expressions and dance moves are as wonderful as always, and the show would not be the same without them. I still cringe when he gets going during Notorious. Someday he’s going to pull something and need help getting off the stage – I can see it coming.
With regard to the setlist, it is a fine retrospective of their entire career as a whole. There are definitely moments that are more tired than others though, and it would be unfair not to comment. If the band wants to do themselves and their audience a favor, they need to give A View to a Kill a long rest. The band seems to trudge along during that song, and they seem as bored playing it as I do listening to it at this point. (bet you all thought I was going to say Hungry Like the Wolf, didn’t you?!? HA!) I know they have other songs…even other “hits”…that would do well in that space. Notorious is not far off from being in the same boat, although Simon’s enthusiastic dancing seems to help that along. Oddly. The Reflex is getting some more mileage these days, and I dare say it’s also in danger of being overdone as well. It’s probably time to find a new way to start that song other than with the call/response ‘Ta Na Na Na’s’ between the band and the audience. Even John’s coercions of “Do it like it’s still 1983” didn’t work all that well on this night. Conversely, Planet Earth…and my personal “favorite”…Hungry Like the Wolf were honestly high points of the show, much to my chagrin on the latter. They’ve changed the way they start HLTW (I’ve got to believe, narcissistically so, that they did this for Roger fans like…oh, I don’t know…ME!) so that Roger begins the song with drums. For a brief second I thought they were playing something else, then of course the melody started and I was pissed that they’d tricked me. I have to admit though that the band seems to have a renewed sense of energy in this song, and as such I found myself singing along, damn it. The new songs off of AYNIN were received rather well for the most part, the only lukewarm reception was probably during Before the Rain, and I really have to believe that has as much to do with it being the beginning of the show, the emotion behind the song itself, and the fact that I stood there almost in a state of shock for about 3/4 of the song. I’m hoping I can actually listen to it in Chicago and get something out of it. (this was not the fault of the band, just the experiences I’ve had getting to this point)
There were a few “misses” throughout the show…not really entire songs, but things I noticed that just don’t seem to make sense. Chastity, their new percussionist is a fine example. I don’t really understand her purpose and what she adds to the show. It may be that there has always been a percussionist off to the side, but for some reason she’s really out in the view of the audience…and was there also during the spring US shows as well. During those shows, her brown hair was long, kept down, and she looked far more like a serious classical musician than she did someone who belonged on a rock and roll stage. Well, now she’s dyed her hair bright red in places, lightened up in others and she wears it off to the side in a ponytail. She sings along with Anna in backup as well. Admittedly, I don’t get it. Anna is now opposite her on Dom’s side of the stage and does her best to remain off to the side, which I do feel is much better than having her out front, although I still appreciate her presence – Simon needs her range, that much I am sure of. There are giant face “molds” hung at the top of the stage, and those are used for projecting images throughout the show. Keep watch on them because at various points each member of the band has their face projected up there and they are ALL singing. Yes, even Roger and it’s a sight to behold. I will say that for those who are closer to the front as we were that night – their noses look HUGE and it’s not at all a good look for them. 😀 They also have 3 video screens behind them that play images of them as well. It’s not a boring backdrop, so for that I’ll give them an ‘A’ for effort. Their wardrobe is also a gigantic MISS, in my opinion. It’s not at all cohesive, which doesn’t matter to me – but it’s worth noting. Nick wore the same leopard print jacket he’s worn at other shows on the tour so far (if only they’d play the song….), Dom had on a collared polo shirt that had red glitter paint lining the collar with some black pants, I couldn’t tell you what Roger was wearing since he’s behind the drums, John had on black pants, a t-shirt with the word “delete” on it and a black leather jacket, and then Simon…Simon wore a black tuxedo-ish type shirt with a burgundy tuxedo cut blazer over it. The blazer was that sort of shiny material that has a black undertone with a burgundy glittery shine to it when the light passes over it. (Again, my “keen” sense of fashion is inhibiting me from telling you the name of the material. I haven’t the slightest clue.) The blazer isn’t something I would have chosen, but it gets “even better”. During the first rest that Simon has, during Tiger Tiger, he goes backstage and changes. On that night, he changed into this blue, very shiny “snakeskin” shirt. I just don’t even know what to say except that I can’t imagine that material breathes well. Oh, and he’s got on some really crackin’ athletic shoes, too. They are black with bright blue soles, and I’ll say this much – I’ll bet his feet don’t hurt at the end of the show! Then for the finale, he changes outfits yet again, this time changing into some sort of a t-shirt that obviously didn’t offend my eyes too much because I don’t remember what it looked like. My point here is that I cannot possibly be the only fan out there that misses the days when they’d come on stage in their nice black suits. Yep, I miss those days. Sure, I might come to the show in jeans….but I want them in their suits.
Another couple of misses it had were the obvious “dance mix” extensions at the end of Planet Earth and Notorious. There just seemed to be no point other than to put some minutes onto the length of the show to make sure they played for at least an hour and a half. (They were on stage at 9:20 and exited the final time by no later than 10:50, and I think I’m being generous by a few minutes on that one.) One thing I did absolutely adore though was the morphing of Wild Boys into Relax. That kicked ass and the band does it brilliantly. I am not into the band doing covers for the most part, but I would love to have them do this whole song live. It rocked. One final critique that Simon almost had something thrown at him from the 3rd row for doing: he comes to the front of the stage at one point and says “You know it’s October….(and at this point I’m thinking “Oh my god, they’re gonna play Secret Oktober!!”) and as such there are probably people in some parts of the United States already celebrating Christmas! (hopes immediately dashed…*sigh*) We’re gonna play our Christmas song now (what?!!)…well actually we don’t have a Christmas song (I can seriously see Nick out of the corner of my eye looking at Simon as though he’d grown 3 heads, then suddenly relief fills his face at this point), but this song as the word ‘snow’ in it.” It’s Come Undone of course. And then I had to stop myself from throwing my phone at him. I’d have beaned him with it, too, and then I would have been carted away by Dave the bodyguard. So, I decided to keep my phone. Good times!!
Overall, it was a great show. Was it a standout show for me? Yes and no. Yes, I’ll always remember the show because I was in 3rd row with my husband, and it was the first show I’ve seen since the UK debacle. Was the band on fire? Well, if John says so then yes – but I’ve seen them get the fans riled up FAR better than they did that night. I suppose this could be blamed on the crowd as much as it could be the band – I’m not really sure. I know they tried and I didn’t ever feel like they were just trying phone the performance in, so to speak. They were working it for us and expected that in return, which I’m not sure they really received til the end when Simon stood up with his arms spread out wide soaking in the moment. After the year he’s been through, he deserved every bit of that applause. I’ll say this much: put Friends of Mine back into the setlist and ditch A View to a Kill, because that’s what the show needs. It needs that kind of energy at that point, and I promise I’ll keep singing Hungry Like the Wolf. For now. 😉
PS – I am going to edit this within the next few days to add photos – my husband took off with his photo card today so I can’t do it now, but I’ll announce when I’ve added them. Walt was the official Daily Duranie photographer that night and he got some great shots!