This was first published in Cherry Lipstick Volume 1 Issue 3 September 1993
The Riverbend Music Center is on the banks of the Ohio River. It was the 17th stop of Duran Duran’s summer tour of North America which began in Mexico City on July 6th and is scheduled to wrap up in Las Vegas on August 24th. We arrived more than an hour early for the alleged 8pm start, and had plenty of time to inspect the layout: a stage with rows of seats facing the stage, covered by a lattice work roof, but otherwise in the open air. For the financially challenged, there was a large grassy picnic area even further back; it seemed ideal for those weren’t interested in the little details like being able to see the stage. Three souvenir booths, manned by official-looking types wearing shirts with EMI logos were doing brisk business selling stupendously over-priced t-shirts ($25), tour programmes ($18), gold-plated double-D pins about ½ inch in diameter ($10) and, my favourite, a packet containing exactly one official Duran Duran condom ($4). (Note to Simon: the pressure isn’t only on the screen to sell you things that you don’t need). Finding these prices eminently resistible, we found out seats, on the aisle about a ¾ of the way back, and settled down to wait.
It took about half an hour before the prospect of leaving without some memento became bearable and I found myself forking out eighteen bucks for the programme. It turned out to be a handsomely printed 24-page item (which it should have been at 75c a page) containing (surprise!) lots of photos of the band (but didn’t you know what they looked like before you spent all that money, fool?), a variety of pseudo-intellectual quotations and epigrams printed in funny type all on top of each other, just to make sure you’re good and confused, and a page of credits including the name of the drummer, Feargus Gerrand, who was well concealed throughout the evening.
Having taken some ribbing about the number of screaming teenage girls who were bound to be present, we were interested to find that the there were actually very few of these. The vast majority of the crowd were 20s/early 30s, about evenly divided between male and female, except in the front few rows, where the fair sex predominated.
At 7.45 the opening act, Terence Trent D’Arby appeared. D’Arby is a fairly big name to be opening for someone, and I suppose it was a coup for Duran to get him, but honesty compels me to say that he was awful. If the purpose of the opening acts is to make the stars look good, then D’Arby was certainly successful. After a full hour of over-amplified screaming he departed to polite applause, and the curtains were hoisted to hide the preparations taking place on stage for the real thing.
At 9.15 the boys made their entrance accompanied by the strains of Planet Earth and a roar of approval from the crowd. Within 30 seconds it was clear there was nothing to worry about. Within 90 seconds it was clear that this was going to be something special. The songs were the classic, old and new, all instantly recognisable yet transformed into something greater than they ever had been before. No longer cabined and confined by the limitations of music recording and reproduction technology or by the puny video screen, they came bursting forth with about 10 times the impact of all the videos put together. It was obvious that we were in the presence of a band that was i) immensely talented and ii) at the peak of their form.
While all this was sinking in, I had a little leeway to be shocked at my first view of John Taylor with flaming red hair (bad idea) and at the appearance of Nick: for a few awful moments it looked like he had gone off the deep end and dyed his hair mop purple, but this only turned out to be lighting – I think. Warren wore a back shirt and black jacket, both of which remained on for the entire evening contrary to expectations, while Simon gradually shed pieces of his rather cheap-looking beige outfit as the show went on. The stage was on two levels with a flight of stairs connecting Nick and Feargus up top with John, Simon and Warren below. The set decorations included a gigantic tube of cherry lipstick – no doubt a subliminal ad – a bank vault and a red London phone booth, from which various entrances and exits were made.
Simon, the master showman, quickly had the audience in the palm of his hand; whatever the relative importance of the others in writing, recording, posing for pictures etc, he dominates the live stage almost to the point that you have to force yourself to look at the other band members (perhaps that explains the red hair). He sang in a somewhat deeper register than we are used to hearing, more like the vocals on Liberty (the song, not album) and I Believe / All I Need To Know.
After getting everybody going with Planet Earth, Hungry Like the Wolf and A View To A Kill, Simon paused to make a few remarks, most of which were unintelligible to those of us at the back, but I caught the tail end of them: “…a song about my world, your world, the ordinary world.” Somehow I think that his world is slightly less ordinary than ours, but never mind. Ordinary World and Come Undone followed, assisted by the excellent backing vocals of Lamya al Mugheiry, who sang on the album version of Love Voodoo. They then launched into an upbeat song I had never heard before, with Simon yelling “Freeze!” then “Rock!”
We returned to familiar territory with a version of The Chauffeur closely resembling the ‘acoustic demo’ from the early 80s, but with Simon doing a solo on the pan pipes (who says he was born with his instrument?) and leading everyone off stage a la Pied Piper. Even Nick detached one of his key boards and joined the procession. You see, he does move, occasionally.
Back on stage they came for the most elaborate number of the evening, Nick in surgeon clothes being pushed onstage in a wheel chair by Lamya, and Simon prone on a hospital trolley, rising to reveal himself tied up in a tangle of ropes, or bandages. The song was Love Voodoo, and I’m still not sure how he managed to not strangle himself. He didn’t, though and the band roared down the homestretch with immense renditions of Notorious, The Reflex and Rio, with Simon plunging into the crowd during the latter like a shirtless politician during an election. Somehow he emerged alive and departed the stage to roars of delight from the ecstatic audience, which demonstrated its demands by thunderous pounding on the backs of the plastic seats.
After a minute the heroes reappeared, not to play The Sound of Thunder, but Save A Prayer and an extremely high-voltage version of Too Much Information, the latter allowing Warren to showcase the flashiest guitar work of the evening. Once again they retreated; once again they were called back, and wound up the evening with a red-hot performance of The Wild Boys. Previously this had never been one of my favourites – what is it, anyway, a hymn to gang violence? – but this time the lines that seemed to matter were “They tried to break us / Looks like they’ll try again,” which took on a whole new meaning they just didn’t have 10 years ago.
As the lights went up, the super-charged bayed for more, but that was all. The show was precisely two hours long. If we had had it our way they would have been there for six hours.
As the elated and somewhat shell-shocked audience of seven thousand streamed towards the parking lot, still basking in the after glow of an unforgettable evening, I would have been willing lay odds that if an announcement had just come over the loudspeakers that Duran were giving another unscheduled performance, at least 90% would have stormed the box office. My one regret, apart from not having a better seat, was that Simon hadn’t come down my aisle when he was working the crowd so I could shout “don’t ever quit” in his ear. Since I’m sure he attends closely the august pages of this journal, let me take this opportunity to say it: “DON’T EVER QUIT.” Oh yes, and come again soon. We’ve missed you.
* EPILOGUE: 25 years later and Simon has still not quit