By Jason Lent
Another Live Aid approaches and, as always, a few will people have their annual chuckle about Simon LeBon missing a note during Duran Duran’s indifferent performance on the momentous day. For me, Live Aid arrived only four days after my first rock-n-roll concert and my ears were still ringing. As much as I wanted to see Duran Duran, it was The Power Station that had me glued to the television. A few nights earlier, my father took me to the outskirts of Florida civilization to witness John and Andy’s side-project at the infamous Hollywood Sportatorium. The excitement of seeing The Power Station certainly made it easier to accept the splintering mess that Duran Duran had become.
Duran Duran had played the Hollywood Sportatorium, affectionately called the Vomitorium for its lawless behavior, a year prior in March of 1984. Being a school night, I wasn’t able to convince my parents that it was the most important night of my life and I had to be there. They chalked it up to being a music crazed eleven year-old but I was serious. I knew Duran Duran were at their peak and I’ve always regretted missing that tour. My dad came through in 1985 and we stood in line for tickets as soon as the unexpected Power Station tour was announced.
The videos for “Some Like It Hot” and “Get It On (Bang A Gong)” were colorful, sexy, and rocking. The album was an instant favorite for me whereas Arcadia’s album has taken years to fully win me over (and it has). For a first concert, I could do far worse than The Power Station and my excitement built and built as we drove down a one lane highway towards to Florida Everglades in the middle of empty fields. While South Florida eventually paved its way west into the Everglades, in 1985 the Sportatorium sat alone on the edge of civilization. We were on an adventure in my 12 year-old mind!
The decrepit arena lived up to its reputation. A few weeks earlier, a Robert Plant concert was postponed due to rain which wouldn’t be that odd except the Sportatorium was actually indoors! The crumbing ceiling was a sieve. Upon arrival, we climbed up the side of the concrete box to section 117 after a stop at the merch table to buy a concert program which I still have to this day. The scheduled support act Spandau Ballet had pulled out due to someone blowing out a knee and, I think, The Bongos might have opened the show. Can anyone confirm that? I just learned they had a song called “Barbarella” so there’s that. Regardless, I don’t remember the support act and the arena’s acoustics were a sound engineer’s nightmare so it could have been Poison and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Thinking back on concerts in the 1980s, I really miss the way they started. The excitement of the first song felt bigger back then from Jon Bon Jovi shooting from under the stage to Howard Jones’ mime winding up an audience. The opening riff of “Murderess” is still burned into my memory. As the curtains pulled back, Andy Taylor’s guitar sliced through the clouds of pot smoke and enveloped my entire being. This was rock-n-roll! I was hooked for life.
The setlist was a mix of somewhat odd covers and the entire debut album. One of the biggest memories of the night was Miami Vice star Don Johnson joining the band on stage for a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Some Guys Have All the Luck”. One of the most interesting songs would have been The Velvet Underground classic “White Light/White Heat” but I don’t remember it and I wouldn’t have known the VU back then. The Animotion cover of “Obsession” that DesBarres cowrote was a bigger deal to me on that night. Looking back at the setlist, I’m surprised that there were only two Duran Duran songs played (“The Reflex” and “Hungry Like the Wolf”) but I was so overwhelmed by the concert that I left on a high.
A few days later, I spent a Saturday shifting from the living room couch to the front lawn to kick a soccer ball around awaiting the Duran Duran and The Power Station slots at Live Aid. The Power Station came out swinging at Live Aid, perhaps trying a little too hard. DesBarres runs all over the place while John and Andy play everything a little too fast. Tony Thompson, always a massive hitter, fills the stadium with ease but he was certainly thinking ahead to his set with Led Zeppelin a few hours later.
Next up was Duran Duran and it was quickly apparent that there was trouble in paradise. Roger Taylor looks completely sick of being in Duran Duran and the other four are clearly operating from two different camps. Andy Taylor sounds like he wants to bury Simon and Nick under a wall of distortion and John looks a bit ragged from his lifestyle. This is not a healthy band and Andy’s disgusted look to the stars when Simon misses the infamous note was a portent of what was to come. The fallout of Live Aid changed Duran Duran, and me, forever.
What happened after Live Aid comes back to me in pieces. I definitely didn’t buy Andy Taylor’s Thunder out of loyalty to Duran Duran but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the singles. The Power Station concert had opened my ears to dirtier guitars just in time for the rise of glam metal on MTV. When Notorious arrived, it was such a break from where Duran Duran had left off that it pushed me deeper into the world of Whitesnake and David Lee Roth, both of whom I saw at the Hollywood Sportatorium before it was torn down, to the disappointment of absolutely no one.
I finally saw Duran Duran in 1989 at the Miami Arena, which replaced the Sportatorium for us in South Florida. A few empty seats and a lack of energy is what little I remember from the night. It was a difficult time to love Duran Duran but a lot of the songs on Big Thing and Notorious have aged better than Seven & the Ragged Tiger for me. Maybe The Power Station saved Duran Duran from themselves. It gave Andy an exit strategy, it finally forced them to address the divide that formed between the five men, and it forced Duran Duran to find a new sound in the aftermath. The Power Station also lit a fire in my soul for rock-n-roll that burns to this day. Other people have “cooler” first concerts to brag about but I wouldn’t trade that night in 1985 for any of them.