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Leicester O2 Academy - reflections on the show

On Saturday 21st May, Ruth, Ben and Adam met up in Leicester and went to the first of the two shows at the O2. On Wednesday 25th May we all had a catch up on Zoom to consider our reflections on the weekend, the setlist and our fandom. A bit later than expected, here is some of the things we chatted about.

Adam: The response to Leicester on social media has been quite astonishing, beyond the usual positivity after a gig. What’s that about?

Ben: I think it was a combination of factors. The band love that contained energy of a small show, and intimacy that allows. They know they don’t have to please 10-15,000 people and can be a bit more indulgent, by playing things like Faster Than Light and What Happens Tomorrow. Leicester was just a big room, and the energy didn’t disperse anywhere. We could all see the bands’ facial expressions, even from the back. We could feed off them, like they could feed off us. They exchanged looks showing they knew it was going down a treat.

Adam: I’d expected a similar reaction after those Birmingham shows in September 2021, the first gigs back after Covid. I didn’t see the same rush of reaction that Leicester seems to have generated.

Ben: Future Past hadn’t actually come out yet at that point. It was the first UK show since 2016, and a lot of people were keen to go beyond the fan pre-sale. And they only wanted Rio and The Reflex. Leicester probably sidestepped that as they’ve played quite a few gigs by now and lots of others big ones are planned that will have mopped up already a lot of casual fans, especially Hyde Park. Were they really going to be bothered to go to Leicester? Probably not, but us hardcore fans were.

Ruth: It was also quite inconvenient as the location and the short notice must have put off a lot of international fans.

Ben: That distilled down the audience to people who would appreciate Faster Than Light. We knew it was a special chance to see the band in a small venue.

Ruth: We all knew Faster Than Light hadn’t been played for 40 years, and we were all secretly, or not so secretly, hugging ourselves for being the first to hear it. And nobody can take that away from us – which might have come through in the social media posts!

Ben: I couldn’t believe it, I’ll smile for the rest of my life.

Ruth: People who weren’t there are also hoping for something for themselves. Which may have bred completely unrealistic expectations about set list changes. These are not going to trotted out on most tours. It was the fact that they opened with it that was particularly jaw dropping. It has made all of our fandoms rejuvenated – everyone’s excited by it. This does include people who are coming to Dublin. But I’m sorry, this will be a ‘picnic in the park’ type thing. They’re not going to dragging out the deep cuts for that.

Ben: That said, opening in Dublin with Invisible is going to have the same effect as 1981 deep cut.

Adam: Ruth made the point that the queuing disaster at Leicester 1 [in which numbers of fans who had queued all day were denied early entrance ahead of the O2 priority members] caused one quite significant benefit for the gig – it meant that there were more dedicated fans spread across the venue.

Ruth: It meant the new songs were known more evenly across the venue, rather than at the front like usual.

Adam: Where do we as fans go from here, having had what we each considered to be our Best Ever Show? Have we had our expectations raised, or we do we just pocket that one and go back to where we were? How do we top that as an experience?

Ben: Well, you know what, I just had probably my best and worst Duran concert experiences back-to-back – Ibiza and Leicester. After Ibiza I thought, ‘who knows what the next one will be like? It might be good’. And, of course, it was way better than good. So the next one – who knows?

Ruth: Yes, Leicester was amazing, but there were so many things that lined up to make that a great gig. We met up for the first time together before the gig, we had very fluky timings at our arrival at the O2 priority queue just before it shut – and nearly going to the wrong gig! [We arrived at the University of Leicester campus and went to the venue where Al Murray was playing and had to be directed off to the O2!]. It was just such a fun weekend. So – is it all downhill? Was that the cliff edge? Are there only a few more gigs before it’s all over and there is no more? For me, it has to come back to keeping it away from the band. We have to recognise that experiences can be great and can be different. I can look back on what my fandom has been over the last 10 years, and remember various wonderful, special moments at shows and meeting them. And in Leicester I bought my first ever Duran Duran t-shirt! So there’s always little things.

Adam: You’re describing how our fandom is an ever-evolving thing – there is no pinnacle, or predictability. In the last year Ben has joined the CL community which has changed again my personal fan circle dynamic, and freshened up CL contributions on the website and in print.

Ruth: I love how the collection of experiences in Leicester were all different from each other. I love the first album with its over the top bass, and its rawness. So hearing Faster Than Light was amazing. I’ve watched a snippet so many times – you took it Ben – and there’s Simon singing the chorus, and you turn the phone on us and we’re all going “waahh!” It’s as little shot of joy every time I watch it.

Ben: At any other Duran concert I’ve been to I’d have had to tell my friends, ‘oh wow, this hasn’t been played for 40 years’ - having to get them excited. Instead I was with two friends whose jaws were dropping like mine!

Adam: I know Halifax will be great because we’ll meet up there, have a blast – and see a Duran show. How bad can that be?

Ruth: The order there is important!

Ben: Halifax will be a different experience – say, hang at the back near the beer tent. I loved being near the front at Leicester, but there’s a danger in trying to recreate that high. We were all resigned to not being that close, so it’s not even something that could be replicated. Life lessons: don’t try to meet band members, don’t try to replicate gig highs! Yes, I’d love to be at the front at Halifax, but that would involve a lot of queuing, which is an investment of time and energy, and builds expectations - and anxiety about when to go to the loo, and whether it will rain. And then what if you don’t get that pay-off or it’s not like you expect?

Ruth: I know how much fun a queue can be, and the payoff of putting that time in. There’s a bonding experience, you often meet international fans. I’ve done the front row and all that that entails, I’m more than happy to be a different type of fan. I’m wondering what memories I’m going to take from this, and that’s what matters to me at this point. It’s not going to last forever.

Adam: I was so happy because this far into my fandom, Leicester just wasn’t supposed to be that good. And that’s it. You just don’t know. It’s not that I now think the next one’s going to be even better. It’s that great things do just happen and if not, that’s OK.

Ben: I liked what Adam said in Leicester about a Duran gig being like a football away day – the gig is an excuse to get out the house, meet up with like minded people, have a discussion (even if we disagreed about First Impression!) and connect with people. It was great to share our interest together – especially after the last couple of years. It’s a great excuse to go to new pubs, meet new people and new towns.

Adam: And that makes the band the excuse, not necessarily the reason, to go.

Ruth: I’m looking forward to Joanne Joanne [all-female Duran tribute band] in July. I was thinking about how to keep the fandom going if Duran Duran stopped tomorrow. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about all this is that for me I go into this little surreal world. I’m in my 40s, stressful job, with kids, and then I go off on a mini adventure. This is really important for my self-care, and my personality. It charges me up and keeps me going. I really love that. And it’s not centered around the band. It’s more about the connections I’ve made as a result of the band. That does make the band special by default, but isn’t all about them.

Adam: All of our fandoms are evolving and changing. I appreciate that for some it’s about as much intimacy via access with the band as possible. I think my fandom has always had a level of distance from the band. Thas been healthy for me, and has reduced an over reliance on the band to find my place in the fan world and what I enjoy about it. I surprised myself by my lack of need or desire to be front row, and the sort of fandom I would have to have to want and achieve that. A lot extrapolated from that thought and realisation that that’s never been what I’ve wanted.

Ben: I can see how being front row might be quite addictive for people. You get those extra interactions with the band, whether how they might look at you, or how you can see them interacting with each other. But that also means taking the rough with the smooth, and you might see the band not having such a good time, for example. Having been so close for the first time at Leicester, I see how it is a different experience. You see the little hand gestures they use to communicate with each other, and to the sound technicians at the side. It does give you greater understanding and respect for their craftmanship. Even when Simon missed the first line to Girls On Film, he cut straight in to the second line with such quick thinking, and it was so great to see those interactions, nods and winks, including with people in the very front.

Adam: Simon seem to go more than two rows back to make eye contact with the audience.

Ben: It was sweet to see that acknowledgement with the fans.

Ruth (shows picture of her in the front row in 2016 touching hands with Simon): And that’s exactly what you’re talking about right there! And so I don’t need to do it again. If that were to happen again, it would only be part of a larger experience. If we’d met the band after the show at Leicester, and may be Nick had come out in the car, wound down the window of his car and signed some stuff, I’d have been ‘wow’. As a stand alone event, it wouldn’t have the same significance. My hand shake with Simon was very exciting, I burst into tears afterwards, I was quite over whelmed. But I wouldn’t do it now. I don’t chase that as an isolated event.

Ben: I am sorry that every time you used hand sanitiser during Covid you were wiping out that remaining DNA Simon left there…

Ruth: The more you make it about the band, the more disappointed you are going to be. That can include queuing a long time and not getting the spot you expect – like at Leicester. Queuing early is an investment. And you expect a return, which is that you are at the front, get a great view – and can be seen by the band. It can depend on whether a gig or event is all centered around the band, or being a general experience of a trip away, meeting friends, drinks and so on. The show and band are then ‘only’ a part of the whole weekend. Leicester for me was pretty special as it was my first one I’ve been to with other fans. I’ve been with my husband before. I’ve been a queuer before. That’s been my investment. I liked the sound of the Ibiza weekend. Everyone’s had the same experience all these years, and this seemed fresh. If you have a similar experience at gigs every time, it can only get stale. Then you have a band that doesn’t mix up the set list much, and Ibiza looked like – outside of the band – a lot of fun. There’s not a lot of time left to do these things, and the band was trying to create a fresh experience for old fans.

Adam: Ibiza seemed like a missed opportunity to be even better than it was, which was captured well by Ben in his review for Cherry Lipstick.

Ruth: Fans should extend their own experiences that they have set for themselves.

L-R: AW, RG, BR-J pre-gig, as liked by Duran Duran, presumably when flicking through Twitter backstage and waiting to come on.

Ben: Is there anything about the Leicester first night set list you would change, and if so why?

Ruth: Tonight United for Give It All Up!

Adam: Yes, they did that at the second night, and it would have been fantastic.

Ruth: Or Rio!

Adam: I enjoyed Rio. I wouldn’t have wanted them to finish on Save A Prayer. I enjoyed looking round seeing people enjoying it. My highlight from the encore was The Chauffeur – it was a privilege to see it played like that. I don’t want to go crazy creating a wish list of ‘oh if only they’d played x, y and z’, it’s that they did actually play Give It All Up the next night, and seeing that would have been wonderful. It’s one of my favourites from Future Past.

Ben: I found when they played it in Ibiza, the sound mix was off. But in the setting of Leicester it was probably quite intimate, and I am sure it was great. I’d have swapped it for Beautiful Lies. Tonight United really does energise the crowd. The band seem to like it a lot which helps the audience feed off their enthusiasm.

Ruth: I didn’t miss anything when I left that night. I didn’t have a single complaint.

Ben: Do you think they’ll bring back Wild Boys, Sunrise and White Lines for the big outdoor festivals?

Adam: My instinctive reaction is ‘yes’ as they work so much better in the bigger venues.

Ben: there really are two Duran Durans. There’s the Duran Duran of Tonight United, and the Duran Duran of Wing. That’s such a different tonal approach from the same band. I’m sure from them, they want their audience to have a good night, singing along - a Downing Street Lockdown basically. If they have too introspective songs it would kill that mood but offer a different experience.

Adam: On the Big Thing tour they played Winter Marches On and Palomino. That is my instinctive Duran Duran preference.

Ruth: They were trying to define themselves as a serious band then. Now it’s more of them declaring themselves as the fountain of everlasting youth, so they have to play the party songs.

Ben: When we previously discussed setlists and tried to make our own show, we found it hard to place Invisible. They played it third in Leicester and it worked well. The big-hit run of Notorious, A View To A Kill and The Reflex worked very well together. It kept everyone constantly engaged.

Ruth: I wonder if Faster Than Light was only played because it was Leicester. Simon made a speech about the last time they played there in 1980 and I wonder if that was a nostalgic trip for them specific to that city.

Ben: I hope the band keep these smaller gigs going as it certainly keeps the band and the audience fresh. You never know, they might start with Palomino!

Ruth: I think it’s pretty certain that’s not happening at these upcoming Scandinavian festivals.

Ben: I hope that at Rock In Rio [in Lisbon, June 25th] it’s a hit-heavy show so it gets the audience going and they’re having a good time. I might find myself getting into a fight with someone who’s talking all the way through Invisible!

Ruth: Yes, if they play Anyone Out There and no one is interested it might affect the previous experience!

Ben: I will always treasure that moment Faster Than Light came on and we all stared at each other in disbelief! There’s a preservation order on that memory.

Adam: I am so happy that I’m getting old and wonderful new things keep happening. Here’s to next time!


Now available in second print run as a single issue - The Lost Treasures of Rio, 40th anniversary special print fanzine.

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