It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting at a club. My husband and I are huddled into a small corner of a banquette, having some dinner as we wait for the place to fill and the scene to unfold. We’re here to see the fab five, of course…and we’re just waiting for time machine to deposit us in the correct decade so that the party can begin. I just finish my steak salad when out of nowhere, a face comes out of the darkness, followed by a body (…and yes, the body is attached to the face but just go with it, I’m trying my best to describe a scene here!) She beckons me to follow her. I put down my napkin, grab my phone and do as she says. Let’s face it, any time someone comes up to me and says the fab five is ready to meet me – I’ll follow. Call me crazy, but I’ll take my chances. So we head upstairs, into the “green room” (Why is it that these rooms are never really green??), and what awaits me is a gathering of, yes…five fabulous guys. Men, actually. They’re hanging out on some couches, surrounding a coffee table. I can already feel that I’m out of breath. (Funny thing about me, when I start to panic or get nervous, I immediately get out of breath. It’s a nice touch when you’re trying to act cool and yet you’re gasping for air like you just ran six miles.) I take a few gulps of air, still trying to seem as though I’ve done this a million times, and I set down my phone, explaining that because I’m an idiot – I have to record the entire interview or else I’ll misquote them. I don’t even know if that’s what real journalists do, but then again, I’m just a fan. A Duranie. And these guys? Well, I didn’t even look at them too much yet out of pure fear (If I stare into their eyes will I forget my questions?? No…I brought a list of them with me that I only looked at twice during the entire thing…), but I can tell you all one thing: this is not Duran Duran, it’s not the 1980s, and I am definitely not in Birmingham. It’s 2013 and I am in Hermosa Beach, California.
Who are these guys then? They’re Rio, a Duran Duran tribute band that is playing at Saint Rocke. What you, as Duranies need to understand about Rio is that they’re genuinely good.(I’m assuming that if you’re reading this – you’re a fan of Duran Duran, given our catchy blog title and all. If not…well hey, I’ll sell you on that band another time.) These aren’t just a group of guys who came in off the street that think they look a little like Simon, John, Roger, Nick & Andy (actually they really don’t look all that much like them). They don’t just stand up there, pretend to play and lip sync their way through Girls on Film. When they do a set, it’s a show…and that show lasts from “wig-on” to “wig-off”. Its not enough to just be a musician or to just act the part. This is the real deal.
|L-R: Gil “John” Barron, Danny “Roger” Alfaro, Jake “Simon” Jacobs, Chadwick “Andy” Steinmetz, Curt “Nick” Clendenin|
The first time I saw them, several weeks prior at the same club, I had my husband follow Curt (Nick..or “Click” as he often is referred as a variation of his alter-ego.) around the club after the show. My evil-intention being of course, to find him out of character. My husband failed. Miserably. Curt elaborates, “I didn’t want to destroy the illusion whatsoever. I want people there to feel like they are watching a Duran Duran show. I want them to feel like they are in a time machine.” This show doesn’t stop when they leave the stage, it carries throughout the night. When “Nick Rhodes” comes up to introduce himself, there is a moment when your heart, well…my heart anyway…desperately wants to believe you’re in Birmingham, experiencing a moment at the Rum Runner. Who am I to argue with my heart?!? So yes, they got me: hook, line, sinker…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
So I’ve established that no, I really am not in Birmingham, but in Southern California at Saint Rocke, a cute little club that I am spending time in on this particular Saturday night…and these guys are kind enough to be my guinea pigs for the next half hour. (So the real truth is that I have over an hour of footage from this interview, but after about the first 28 minutes – we really don’t talk much about the questions I’ve brought. I had forgotten to shut off my recorder, because I’m super cool that way. Amateur. Geesh. I have a lot to learn.) After I flub up my opening lines which consist of thanking them for taking time to talk to me, I start to feel as though I’d better ask some questions or else the crickets…that seem to be getting louder and louder in the room…are going to run me right out of there. So I begin with something easy: The Music.
I want to know how tough it really is to get Duran Duran right. Do they have nearly impossible songs to replicate in their set list? The answers surprised me. They ranged from Hold Back the Rain as Gil (John) explains “John plays with a pick on the record and I don’t play with a pick. It’s a real fast gallop and in addition to that I’m singing my ass off as back up….the whole ‘hold back the rain part’…so that song ages me every time.”, to Danny’s (Roger) answer of Come Undone. “Its just that beat. It’s obviously a loop, but I try to make it stick, make it sound like a loop. It doesn’t have a lot of swing to it though, so it’s kind of hard not to swing.”
My own head begins swinging just as I begin to understand the monumental task it must be as they dare to replicate Duran Duran onstage. Then the guitarist for this entourage, Chadwick, breaks into my thoughts, “The hardest aspect of what I do in this band is making the guitar sounds. It’s not so much the technical proficiency of it, it’s dialing in the tones…it’s really a challenge and I’m not very close but I’m not very far either.” I can’t imagine. In no way do I understand the amount of track layering and tinkering with the sound that happens in this band, but I know enough to realize that one person simply can’t replicate that onstage. You’d need someone constantly dialing in your guitars, and Rio doesn’t have that luxury. “I mean, there’s one song where you’ll need a whole lot of drive and a whole lot of grit and distortion, and then there’s another where you’ll need a funky ‘chanka-chanka-chanka’ kind of thing, and you’ll need a chorus…” Chadwick continues, “…and then there’s Come Undone and you’ve got a lot of super duper heavy effects and…there’s only so many things that you can have with you up on stage and so you’ve got to make your gear get as close to that as you can. You can’t go running back and forth to your amp and redesign the sound because those studio sounds…they’ll sit down with the producer and they’ll spend all day long dialing in the sound that they want for one sound, and then they’ll layer the guitar tracks. So there’s two or three guitar parts going on at the same time…We’re all playing the same sport, so yeah, it’s a challenge but the guitar parts are cool, well-written, they’ve got a real R&B kind of Motown kind of practicality to them, and that’s cool. It’s neat, it was a lot of fun learning all of them, but the actual tonality is much more challenging.” I don’t know that I’ll ever listen to a Duran song the same way again.
Like any good frontman, Jake (Simon) has his own answer, not be outdone by his bandmates. “The Reflex”, he says with certainty. “Yeah, it’s just out there….’Park’ and ‘dark’. There will be nights when it is effortless but it’s not an easy note…I’d just played (with) this (other) band ah, a week ago, and I’m looking at the set list and I’m ‘alright, so I know I’ve got to do Don’t Stop Believing (Journey) and I’ve got to do Sweet Child Of Mine (Guns N Roses). Not a problem. Something about ‘park’ and ‘dark’..” The group breaks up into laughter, clearly aware of the challenge in a way that I am not, which speaks a little something for the professionalism of this group. I would have never known those notes were a challenge for Simon, er..I mean Jake.
I found it easy to laugh along with the guys on their trials, tribulations and missteps with the music. As nervous as I was, and believe me, I was shaking for quite a while as I asked the questions, the band kept me at ease. As a group, Rio is very easy going, and just as we fans see with their counterparts, it’s easy to see the love that flows between them. I mentioned as much to the band, trying not to swoon as I looked each of them in the eye (I am now convinced that there really IS something going on in the music that keeps us under a spell, not to mention that these guys? They’re good looking. I have no trouble admitting that when it comes to this band, I’m a Simon-girl all the way *gasps*…with a side of Nick *gasps again*….what IS it about Duran Duran that automatically has us choosing our favorites?? I digress.)
“We have so much fun,” Chadwick (Andy) explains as I ask about the group chemistry, “You
|Rio’s manager Dina and I|
guys just don’t realize. …for me at least, this isn’t about what’s happening onstage. For me it’s about the whole experience. These two (motioning to Danny and Jake) show up at my house and we throw my stuff in the back of the truck and we drive there. We’ll spend two hours clowning around and we get there, and we see the rest of the group and Dina. (their fearless, hardworking manager – I must give her mad props and respect because she is the only female in this entourage, and she keeps those guys on their toes. Go Dina!) There’s big hugs, laughing and poking fun at each other, its like the whole experience to the packing down afterwards and taking pictures. There’s a community that is much bigger to me in my mind than just what we’re doing on the stage.” Gil adds, rather aptly, “I was telling her (Dina, their very capable and kind manager) this on the way here that its not necessarily the destination, but the journey.” That is so important. I think every single fan who has read our blog with any kind of regularity would agree. There really isn’t a destination in mind when you’re a fan – I mean, sure, we all (well, most of us) wanted to marry a band member at one point or another. After fire has been properly set to that fairy tale though, where do you go?? Its the journey, it is exactly what being a fan is all about. And Rio…are they fans of the band they emulate?
I have to laugh because when I posed this question, those crickets I wrote of earlier seemed to get extremely loud for about five, very long seconds. Danny was the first to answer, “I’m a fan. I’m not a fanatic, I mean, I don’t know trivia and all that, but yeah obviously I love Duran Duran so…” I looked around and all of them nodded. Chadwick added his own prospective by saying, “I wasn’t a huge DD fan before this… Over the years..I mean I can sing all of their hits, but when you dig in and start doing your homework and you learn all of Andy’s parts from the guitar players perspective, you connect with the music in a different way certainly, and it means like I’m a much bigger fan now than I was in the beginning.” Fair enough. Maybe this was the wrong question to ask, and in hindsight, precious…precious hindsight, I can understand where I went wrong. To begin with, just because one plays a certain type of music as a paying gig doesn’t mean they are automatically a fan, and to be honest – I think sometimes being so close to it (by being a fan) can truly cloud the big picture vision.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t true blue fans in Rio, though, as Jake clearly states, “I think there are two Duranies in the five of us, and then there’s all these guys who love Duran.” Danny explains, “I mean, to be in a proper tribute…you kind of have to study you know, so it comes off as legit. So I appreciate it (the band) much more.” I can see that. I’ve written about other tribute bands I’ve seen, and at least for myself, the “cheese factor” gets a little thick at times. No one wants to pay money (or not pay money for that matter) to see their favorite band get made into a shtick for comedic purposes. I count myself in that group: I wouldn’t tolerate that, and I certainly wouldn’t expect any other Duranie to stand by and laugh it off, either.
I want to be completely clear: Rio is anti-shtick. Their act is as authentic, real, heartfelt and respectful as you’re going to get. Yes, they have fun with the music when they’re up onstage, but that’s because Duran’s music IS fun. They enjoy what they do, and the audience sees and feels that. They are the real deal in every way. So I gently ask the guys how they feel about that, and how they get around the “schtick”. “It’s like you know, the dudes are in their mid-40’s with True Religion jeans and the Affliction t-shirts and they’re trying to look like Boston.” Jake rolls his eyes in disgust and continues, “It’s disheartening. I’ve been blown away by some tribute acts too. I think for me, and I can speak for the rest of us, it’s like…it took a little bit to get this, this line up. The reason I feel this line up has executed the band as well as it has is because previous band members just wouldn’t commit. You know, with all due love and respect, it’s like ‘look man, it’s a tribute act.’ There is a difference between a cover band and a tribute band, and we’ve all been in our cover bands and whatever it is….I think it’s safe to say I agree with you 100% on the cheese factor.” Somehow, it’s comforting to hear the frontman say those words and know he means them. Jake continues, “Being a DD fan, there’s…if you do it wrong, it’s going to be…well, it’s Duran Duran. It’s unique. It’s DD, it’s a very different style of music, and a very different…in their own right amazing musicians and very unique musicians and so yeah, I understand exactly what you mean, and I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
Rio definitely has its work cut out for them, because lets face it: we are very tough customers. Duranies can be snobby, so to speak. I’ve said that before here on this blog, much to the ire of others, but it is true and I mean it in the most respectful way possible – remember, I’m a Duranie too. Let me say that Duran Duran is coming to town, and everyone is ready and willing to spend hundreds on tickets, even if they’re grumbling in the process. Conversely, if I were to say that Rio is playing somewhere – far less are willing to spend even $10.00 on tickets, much less drive anywhere to see them. That’s a tough bridge to cross. A similar feeling holds true for fan conventions – people want to hold on to their money to see the band, not so that they can meet other fans, and you know, there’s nothing wrong with that even though it’s not my vision of what being a fan is like. We are all here for our own reasons, and we all want our own experiences.
When you’re ready to give this band a chance, you won’t be disappointed. We chatted about this problem, because it’s clearly a challenge that most tribute bands face. Gil, the original, founding member of Rio, had this to say on the subject, “You’re an example as well. You’re a huge Duran Duran fan, but you have the option of seeing the real band because they’re still active. People have the choice of seeing the tribute band which might be hokey and cheesy or the real deal. That’s the drawback for us, because especially when they’re on tour, we don’t work as much naturally. But the thing is, when you do finally come out, you are sometimes blown away, and it’s just a word of mouth thing, and that’s where it’s gotten us for now. We’ll take it, even if there’s one new person at each show, it’s OK and hopefully they’ll go on social media put the word out for us.” Or they beg for an interview and attend several shows…
This band wins skeptics like myself over at nearly every show. Recently the band was in Arizona and played two sold out shows where yet another skeptic left the show as a fan. Curt describes, “…I saw this transformation take place, when we got up on stage in Arizona there was this older lady like right up front… and she just had this smirk on her face like she was just not having a very good time, then he (motions to Jake) starts singing to her and she starts smiling a little bit and then he’s out there and he’s dancing with her a little bit and before I know it she’s up on stage for Girls on Film and dancing.. hugging Chadwick and looking at his hands while he’s playing guitar and like it’s amazing to see this evolution take place in this old lady…” Jake agrees, “Those shows can be, they can be…they’re just so fun, because of the interaction with the crowd and the way we feed off the crowd and back and forth…it’s hysterical and people, you know like I said, going back to the whole Duranie thing, it’s like these people you know, you gotta give them what they deserve.” Its true, we deserve good shows, and this band delivers, each gig being like their own musical happening rather than just a 8 or 10 song set that any cover band could perform.
The members of this band come from different walks of life. Gil seems to be the most serious musician in the group…he plays nearly every instrument known to man and was self-taught on all of them. (which I have to think comes in very handy when you’re trying to replicate Duran Duran…I should have asked which one handles the Ocarina amongst them…alas, another question for another interview..), whereas Jake and Curt both come from a musical theater background. Danny and Chadwick have both been in previous bands with Jake, although I have also heard a rumor that Chadwick attends med school… a topic I didn’t have a chance to ask about during my time with them. Rio is not their “day job”, although I suspect that if we gave them half a chance and a fraction as much loyalty, they might have a serious shot at making it that way if they so wished. Gil explains, “We’ve made up a sort of unofficial agreement that we’re just going to have fun with it and not put a lot of pressure on ourselves. If people want to continue to book us, we’ll go.”
The most interesting observation came when I saw them do their set during the first show I attended. It is true, the band has work to do in winning the Duranie crowd over as a whole… it is tough to get people like me to come to shows, and when they do, they are skeptical. However, they definitely have their fans. That first night at Saint Rocke, I had the unique vantage point of watching the room fill for their set (which was admittedly short that night). Not only do people show up, they stake our their spots early. They still want that front row spot right in front of the band member of their choice. They wait, and they swoon when the band arrives. The band seems to have a tradition of inviting the women in the audience to come up on stage with them during Girls On Film…something that would never happen with the real band, and even with Rio – I genuinely worried for their safety the first time I saw it. I mentioned as much to them during our interview, explaining that from my point of view, the girls fall all over them, as if Jake were really Simon LeBon or if Curt (who does a fine job of drinking wine and taking photos from the stage while playing) were truly Nick Rhodes. Jake slyly grins and says “And so you’re asking why we do it…?”
Not really so much when you say it that way, no. Point well-taken!
|Posting one more time, because I can!|
As I touched back down into reality and was escorted back downstairs from my interview, I realized I was no longer feeling as though I was going to suffocate. My nerves had finally settled, and most importantly – my phone really did record the entire interview. There were moments during the interview when I secretly wondered (and prayed to the Duran Gods) that my phone was actually recording. Yep, I’m as smooth and professional as they get, baby! I survived…the band survived, and while I might not have met the original fab five in some back room at the Rum Runner that night, I did meet some of the nicest, most talented men I’ve met since this whole dizzying experience first began. This blogging thing certainly has it’s perks..and maybe someday I’ll have the whole journalist thing nailed too. Well, distant goals are good, anyway.
If you are the least bit intrigued, I encourage you to come join me on Friday night at Romano’s in Riverside as the time machine drops us all of in 1985 for a night. Rio takes the stage for a full set, and I hear it’s going to be quite a show. Drop me a line and let me know you’re coming – I’ll meet you there!
I’ve already done my duty and begged for Secret Oktober…because I must…but I’ll settle for Is There Something I Should Know anytime.
My apologies for not including this yesterday – for more information on Rio, as well as their schedule and a ton of photos, videos and other treats:
Rio’s website: http://www.durandurantributeband.com
Rio on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DDTribute
Rio on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DDTribute