It’s been more than four decades since Birmingham-based Duran Duran emerged into the blossoming New Romantic music scene of the 1980s, following line-up shifts that solidified when Hertfordshire-hailing frontman Simon Le Bon brought his distinctive voice to the group. They were a mainstay of 1980s radio play but persisted into the 1990s and beyond, with 16 studio albums now under their belt.
And following a triumphant headline set as part of last year’s BST Hyde Park series, which saw them play to over 60,000 fans in the capital, they brought their Future Past tour back to London for two nights at The O2 Arena.
Appearing on stage atop a stairway, flanked by two elaborate screen displays, which are later hoisted above the stage, the four members of Duran Duran stand and soak in the rapturous roar of an adoring fanbase, many of whom have travelled far and wide to attend, as pre-recorded thumping beats and synth notes of Future Past tune Velvet Newton pump out across The O2. Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Roger Taylor then descend the steps to take up position behind their respective instruments, leaving frontman Simon Le Bon.
Deep cut Nightboat, from the group’s 1981 eponymous debut L.P. kicks off the set, the slow-build tune making the most of Le Bon’s distinctive voice, while touring guitarist Dominic Brown steps up, into the shoes of original guitarist Andy Taylor, John Taylor’s pounding rhythm building through the course of the song.
The tempo is stepped up as Duran x2 dive straight into Arena hit single The Wild Boys, John Taylor’s signature slap bass bridging synth-pop and funk nicely, as shouts of “Wild Boys” echo over Le Bon’s vocals.
“Good evening London” the frontman offers. “Greenwich, The O2, back again!” he continues, eluding to this second night at the venue as a part of this tour. “Hungry, hungry, hungry!” he roars by way of introduction to 1982 hit Hungry Like A Wolf from sophomore record Rio, which already has many in the fully-seated audience on their feet, Nick Rhodes finding breaks between his parts to take a few photos from behind his keyboards.
“Good evening, isn’t life wonderful?” the frontman asks his audience. “We have music for you tonight, a whole mixture” the 64-year-old promises, offering deep cuts for die-hard fans. But it is Future Past lead single Invisible that is aired next.
The Duran Duran-penned James Bond theme for the Roger Moore-staring A View To A Kill is preceded by John Barry’s signature theme music, the song absolutely the best part of the 1985 film, and that’s saying something given Christopher Walken was cast as its main villain!
Funk-laden, Nile Rodgers-produced fourth record title track Notorious reminds us just how influential and divergent Duran’s sound has become, the track sampled for the posthumously-released 1999 hit Notorious B.I.G.
Give It All Up offers more from Future Past, demonstrating the group’s continuing relevance before Le Bon holds up his promise, Rio deep-cut Lonely In Your Nightmare given an airing, segueing into Rick James classic Super Freak. “Everybody sing” the frontman requests as Simon Willescroft’s saxophone triumphs.
Le Bon and John Taylor kick off Is There Something I Should Know? With deliciously harmonised vocals around a single microphone, Le Bon showing off his harmonica skills during an instrumental break, the O2 Arena audience largely remaining upstanding as the hits keep coming. And there are so many!
Rhodes’ sinister synths give way to John Taylor’s slap bass before Le Bon stops the band playing. “Let me explain what happened” he says, both to his audience and his confused bandmates. “I just went backstage to do a nifty quick change” he shares, gesturing to his jacket and explaining that he’d forgotten to put his ear monitors back in. “This is why it says on my twitter page ‘consummate unprofessional’” he offers, to laughs from the crowd.
After correcting the error, the band re-start for a flawless outing of debut record cut Friends Of Mine, the large elevated screens showing a live camera feed of the audience with computer generated, fluorescent snakes, spiders and such crawling over them before debut record deep-cut Careless Memories is offered. The tempo shifts for a rousing outing of 1993 hit single Ordinary World, the ballad seeing the O2 audience gently swaying along.
Anniversary is the final cut taken from Future Past tonight before a much welcome airing of the group’s debut single, 1981’s Planet Earth, the frontman taking time out to introduce all of the musicians on stage before saying of himself: “My name is Bon, Simon Le Bon. It’s French you know”, the tongue-in-cheek play on their James Bond connection not going unnoticed.
The main set is closed out with a duo of Duran Duran’s biggest hits: a one-two punch of The Reflex followed by Girls On Film, the latter blending magnificently into Calvin Harris hit Acceptable In The 80s, Le Bon and co. waving the 1980s flag proudly rather than shying away from it.
A brief stage departure and we’re into 1993’s Come Undone. “You have no idea what kind of a suntan I’m getting off this” Le Bon jests, pointing out the super bright spotlights that have been trailing him for the evening before inviting backing singer Anna Ross to the front to duet the song with him.
The crowd produce a sea of phone torches as the opening synths of 1982 hit single Save A Prayer ring out, Le Bon strumming an acoustic guitar and handing over vocal duties for the hit single’s chorus to the crowd, who don’t disappoint. The night of music ends with the magnificent Rio, John Taylor’s driving bass sprinkled with Rhodes’ delicious synths and Le Bon’s distinctive vocals closing out a triumphant night of glorious golden age New Wave pop.
Sure, tonight leaned heavily on Duran Duran’s 1980s hits rather than the record the tour is supposedly promoting. And they didn’t go anywhere near the seven albums they put out between 1997 and 2015. But that’s alright, anything else and an arena crowd shelling out £100+ a seat might have walked away disappointed. Instead, there are wide smiles plastered on faces making their way back to North Greenwich station.
Duran Duran continue their Future Past tour with stops in Leeds, Birmingham, Dublin and Glasgow before heading state-side for a mammoth 30-date US and Canada tour, kicking off later this month and winding up at Forest Hills, New York on 22nd September.
Live review and photography of Duran Duran @ The O2 Arena by Kalpesh Patel on 2nd May 2023.