Joanne Joanne are the fourth Duran tribute act that I’ve seen. The others were in different settings – a couple of Duran fan meet up, and an 80s Butlins-weekend show. So there were different audiences for the bands to play to. Some might seem easy but the chaps at Butlins stunk the place out and the place was virtually empty by the end. This was one was above a London pub in an established music venue at Christmas as part of a Loud Women Christmas show.
Previously the tribute acts have struggled through three problems.
No 1: Understandably, and like the real thing, they featured songs from the range of Duran’s career. The evening has required the band to move between different musical styles and sounds, which can be jarring for a limited sound system and the talent on stage gets stretched thin.
No 2: Understandably, and like the real thing, the set list has been rather predictable. You know you’re getting Hungry Like The Wolf.
No 3: It’s a bit on the weird side seeing the tribute band play. Look! There’s John! Who isn’t John, but is sort of trying to look like him but he’s too short. And ugly. But he’s doing the John moves-thing so it’s a bit lookey-likey but not really. This means we’re generally a bit disappointed and spend our time squinting a bit and pretending a bit too hard that we didn’t wish it was the real thing.
So how to escape these cul-de-sacs? Joanne Joanne swat them all away easily.
Firstly – know your era. They only play the first three albums. This might seem a bit obvious and easy, but by choosing this period, the music and sound is similar. There’s no need to go anywhere near Wild Boys, Notorious or Come Undone, all of which tend to fail the first test above. The sound is consistent, the playing tight and there’s an evenness to the music. Interestingly, the most jarring moment came with Is There Something I Should Know when this monster of a pop song blasted through the previously ethereal sounds of the album tracks that formed the basis of the set.
Secondly – avoid the hits. The four biggies of 81-83 (Rio, Hungry, Save a Prayer and Reflex) were gloriously absent. Instead we got New Moon On Monday, Union of the Snake, plus Planet Earth and Girls on Film. The latter two roared out and showed why, amongst the angst and darkness of the first album, they emerged with pop greatness yet retained the essence of the sounds and smells of a debut band.
Thirdly – and this one is easier for some people than others – don’t be men. By a genius trick of swapping gender, the whole experience was turned on its head. No need to be obviously not-Simon - you’re, like, a woman! That’s clever. But the gender reversal existed not only on stage. In the audience we now had male Duranies experiencing Duran Duran's music in a rather different way from before. With the real thing we have enjoyed the music and style of the band (whilst surrounded by female fans who seem to be concentrating on something else). When something so familiar (Duran songs played by men) was turned so completely on its head, everything was able to be experienced differently. Whilst we all respected the musicianship on display, the power of throbbing tunes + bright lights + late evenings added an undeniably unexpected frisson to the show. Well ladies, we’ve had years of this conversation from you in your concert reviews, but modesty and gentlemanliness forbids going any further. Suffice to say that from a tribute act perspective, the female band wiped out the who’s-who aspect and concentrated on the music (plus the other thing of course).
So the set list and band members were ready – but they still needed to deliver. And they did, from the opening of My Own Way, via New Religion, Late Bar and Sound Of Thunder (did I mention The Chauffeur or Shadows On Your Side?), to the raucous closer of Girls On Film. Being so close and with the band so tight, the quality of the songs leapt out. As ever for me, real-Andy’s contribution to early Duran leapt out, driving the songs along from what could have been over-introspection into the charts and stadiums of the world.
In the small-gig environment we all did a bit of imagining that we were back in 81 watching the five dynamic young things enjoying the start of their thrill ride. But there was rather too much eager chat after the show about how this was ‘better than the real thing’ to say that we were just getting a second-rate Duran-hit. It meant we didn’t just get a great end to 2017 – we all felt it set up 2018 with a hope that there will be more from Joanne Joanne.
Photo by Paul Nicholson