Duran Duran Brings Planet Earth To The Woodlands

The four horsemen of the New Wavepocalypse.
The four horsemen of the New Wavepocalypse. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Duran Duran, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Bastille
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
June 9, 2023
The name of this band is Duran Duran.
I've talked about the twilight of our musical heroes here before (probably too much, tbh). Those ruminations have mostly focused on artists who came to prominence during the '60s and '70s, a number of whom have completed "farewell' tours as age and/or illness finally catch up with them.

Tempus fugit, as Virgil said. For just as those formative rockers have hung it up, time is catching up with our GenX mainstays as well. U2, New Order, and Violent Femmes have all come through Houston in recent years, hoping to capitalize on the MTV generation's dwindling share of disposable income. Last night, it was Duran Duran's turn. To their credit, they delivered a kick-ass show that didn't reek of career desperation.

The band's most famous lineup (Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor, John Taylor) coalesced in 1981, and they released three albums in three years (and if you weren't feeling old enough, this year is actually the 40th anniversary of Seven and the Ragged Tiger, not 1982's Rio). The band named after the villain from Barberella was inescapable in those early years of MTV, with their deceptive good looks paired with solid songwriting. They were also video pioneers, introducing trendy fashion and exotic locales and shooting on actual film.

That aesthetic was on display, if a bit subdued, at the Pavilion last night. It was a crowd-pleasing set, to be sure, focusing heavily on their self-titled debut and Rio in spite of ostensibly being in support of their latest release, 2021's Future Past. The newer tracks were wisely spaced among the better known stuff.

As if to punctuate that, they opened with "The Night Boat" from their first album, and played half a dozen songs before getting to anything new. Not that anyone was complaining, even during Le Bon's cheesy intro to "Hungry Like the Wolf:" "I have heard there are many wolves in Texas." Not really, dude. Maybe if the song was "Hungry Like the Feral Hog."
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Photo by Eric Sauseda
Le Bon was having the kind of fun that comes from knowing that, short of an actual crime (and even then), his legacy is secure. Rhodes and the two remaining Taylors also appeared to be having a grand old time (original guitarist Andy hasn't been with them since 2004, due to illness, with Dominic Brown as the band's touring guitarist). He commented on how they had the only air-conditioned stage on tour, and you almost believed it until he shed his suit coat about halfway through the set.

Both he and John Taylor made wardrobe changes during the show. You know who didn't? Nick Rhodes. He kept that gold lamé suit on the entire time, and looked cool as hell all the while. But then, these aren't guys who'll ever submit to wearing cargo shorts, I don't care how hot it is.

The groundbreaking visuals that were the band's trademark have become kind of par for the course these days. Known for being one of the first bands to use big ass video screens in concert, the scenes displayed during “Friends of Mine" were the closest the night's presentation every came to thought-provoking. And that and "Careless Memories" provided the deepest of deep cuts for fans of a certain vintage.

Le Bon Dedicated "Ordinary World" to the people of Ukraine, which launched a closing selection of songs that included "Planet Earth," "White Lines" (which has only ever been an excuse for J. Taylor to get funky) , "The Reflex" and "Girls on Film." That, along with "Planet Earth," drew some of the most uproarious reactions.

If nothing else, last night proved Duran Duran has no intention of resting on their laurels. There's still a joie de vivre to their madness, which comes from both sartorial fortune and genuine talent. They, like all of us, are getting older. But if anyone can age gracefully — and with a little cheek — it's Duran Duran.
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The legend: Nile Rodgers.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
What About The Openers? Bastille did well, especially considering leader/vocalist Dan Smith looked like he was turning into a puddle in the pre-sunset set. They were pretty enthusiastic considering the sun was in their face almost the entire time.

As for Nile Rodgers and Chic ... it almost feels unfair that an artist as influential as Rodgers (his remix of "The Reflex" gave Duran Duran their first No. 1 hit in the U.S., for example, and he helped produce Notorious) isn't headlining his own tour. And he'd probably tell you the same thing. They opened with "Le Freak," played a handful more of Chic songs, then ran through a selection of tunes Rodgers himself co-wrote or produced, including Diana Ross's "I'm Coming Out," "Modern Love" by Bowie, and Madonna's "Material Girl." He — and they — were effortlessly cool.

Not many concerts can boast crowd pleasing performances from both openers, much less two, but Bastille and Nile Rodgers delivered.

Personal Bias: Between MTV and radio, I think I clocked 15 plays of "Rio" in a single day.

The Crowd: The mild, the sweaty, the Woodway Blvd. shuffle.

Overheard In The Crowd: 'They can't let dogs in here, can they?"

Random Notebook Dump:  "I'm mildly surprised Rodgers didn't come out to join them on 'The Reflex,' but he's probably already asleep on his giant pile of money."

Night Boat
The Wild Boys
Hungry Like the Wolf
The James Bond Theme (John Barry song)
A View to a Kill
Lonely in Your Nightmare / Super Freak
Is There Something I Should Know?
Friends of Mine
Careless Memories
Ordinary World
Come Undone
Planet Earth
White Lines (Don't Don't Do It) (Grandmaster Melle Mel cover)
The Reflex
Girls on Film / Acceptable in the 80's

Save a Prayer
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Rock & Roll Hall of Famers.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar