I was thoroughly spoiled on Friday night, as I stood less than 30 feet away from Simon Le Bon as he sang Is There Something I Should Know AND Late Bar in a single set in a small, intimate bar in Fullerton, California. Of course, John, Roger, Andy and Nick were there too, and Duran Duran was on fire…playing everything from Sound of Thunder to Notorious, deep cuts to big hits. Duranies lined the stage, and while I only saw one pair of panties thrown…it was a good night.
Ok, so maybe it wasn’t really Simon. Or John, Roger, Andy and Nick for that matter. Particularly given the fact that they were in Argentina that night, and oh yes – Andy is no longer with the band – I kind of knew it was going to be tough to sell anyone on that story. So who was the band and where was I? The band was of course Rio: the Duran Duran tribute band, and the venue was the Totally 80’s Bar and Grille.
Here’s the thing – as far as bars go, the Totally 80’s Bar is every 80s cliché wrapped up into one building. Neon, black lights, TV monitors on the wall playing completely different videos from the music pouring out of the speaker, even the same really gross, dank, but not entirely off putting, “ick” oozing from its walls. As I stood at the bar, nursing one of the worst vodka tonics I’ve ever had, I watched a guy dancing and spinning alone in the corner of the dance floor. I almost had to pinch myself, because I’d swear I saw that same dude thirty years ago at Fashions on the Redondo Beach pier. Yeah, for me, Totally 80’s was nearly like stepping back in time….and falling flat on my face in a sea of neon paint with Apollonia 6 serenading me like carnival music in a fun house. In a word: weird. Fun, but weird.
I think that in order to appreciate the sights and sounds, you must have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Some do, as they come dressed proudly in 80s garb with a side ponytail and enough neon lighting bolts to power their own homes. Others, like me, are little more apprehensive and less likely to fully embrace 1980-something coming back to life. We come to see bands we think we know play music we rarely get to hear live.
As showtime neared, I was once again flabbergast to see Duranies – and yes, you can tell they’re Duranies because some even wear their Paper Gods touring t-shirts, which is both appropriate and cute in this setting – grabbing the front and center spots. They were ready to do battle if necessary to defend their territory from the few women (oh yes, even here) that feel they should always be awarded a spot directly in front of the singer, even if they drunkenly arrive mid-set. Truthfully, I can’t find fault with the Duranies in front, even if I chose not to join them in favor or standing back to watch the scene unfold. The die-hard in me screamed to go to the front, while the more reasonable side constantly reminded me that this was not really Duran Duran. The dance floor filled nicely for Rio, and once the band took the stage, even people from the back of the bar came to check the band out.
I hadn’t seen Rio perform live for about a year, and it might have been longer than that, now that I think about it. I can’t always make it to their shows (this is a tribute band that plays regularly so that Duranies can always get their fix, should the need arise!), but I go when I can. Since my last trip to 1985 (with Rio, of course), they’ve had a personnel change. Not to be confused with the real Duran Duran (although they will tell you that they are in fact the real Duran Duran), in this case it is their keyboardist who has recently changed. Not sure if the sub “Nick” will stick around, but he was good.
I know a lot of people wince at the idea of a tribute band. I was one of those, once. Two things make Rio different: 1. They take the music seriously, even though sure – the “act” is a schtick of sorts. They’re not making fun of Duran Duran, they’re emulating them as they tell the crowd that we’ve all been taken back to 1985 in a time machine and that it’s going to be a party. These guys are fans – and I know this because I’ve hung out with them after Duran Duran shows! In turn, they make their own show fun, and do the music all kinds of justice. I’m picky about my Is There Something I Should Know, and they play it true to form….every time. EVERY TIME. 2. They don’t just play the hits. They also play the deep cuts only Duranies know. That’s the one thing I have to say, even when they’re playing Late Bar, everyone is dancing on that floor. I wish Duran Duran (the real band) could see it, because it’s a sight to behold. John Taylor may say that only die-hard fans in the first row or two know the song at his shows – but at these shows? Everybody knows it, or it’s so damn good they dance anyway.
So while Duran Duran may never play Late Bar or Sound of Thunder, Rio does…and they do it brilliantly. If you haven’t had a chance to see them, you should make the time. I’ll even save you space on the dance floor.