“I think everybody who takes on a career wants to be number one in that field. We as a band just want to be the best pop group in the world.”
— Simon LeBon, lead singer of Duran Duran, early 1980′s
I hadn’t seen the “Day In The Life” featurette, which included the above quote from LeBon, until a few days ago. It was included, along with dozens of other videos, on Duran Duran’s “VEVO” channel on YouTube. I watched several of the videos there in anticipation of the “Duran Duran Unstaged” show, which was broadcast live on that channel last night. I watched the broadcast, and here is my review.
In sum, I think the band’s choice to put together and promote this event the way they did, and their performance during the event itself, are consistent with LeBon’s above-stated goal.
Now, you might think I’m just a little bit biased because, when I was watching the YouTube channel just a few minutes before the show started, I got the pleasant surprise of seeing that David Lynch had selected the question I had tweeted to be answered by one of the band members during the pre-show event. (Mine starts at about 1:20 into the video.) Pretty cool, huh?
But I don’t think the fact that Roger Taylor answered my question disqualifies me as a reviewer of the broadcast. Rather, I think it just supports my view that in promoting the release of their new album, All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran have, as they did in the 1980′s, exploited all available technology to the fullest extent possible in order to further their goal of becoming the world’s greatest pop band. Their use of Twitter, Facebook and iTunes, along with the ability to stream video live over YouTube, has, so far as I can tell, gotten their fans very involved in and excited about the release of the new album and their upcoming tour. In addition, teaming up with contemporary pop artists such as Kelis should help them reach today’s teens and preteens. In fact, there will likely be a synergistic effect on today’s youth resulting from these collaborations, plus all those Durannie parents forcing their kids to listen to Duran Duran while being “Chauffeured” around. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Here’s a list of the things they’ve done to promote themselves (that I can remember off the top of my head):
1. Offered the title track, “All You Need Is Now,” as a free download from iTunes, for a limited time. I, like so many others, was glad to take advantage of the offer, and I’m sure it got the buzz going.
2. Set up a very active Facebook page, in addition to the already active official web site and Fan Community. They regularly send out updates, links to special videos, etc., which keep everyone involved.
3. The Fan Community, by the way, has, for many years, offered a lot of special opportunities for fans who have joined. In fact, the first time I ever met the band was after their reunion, thanks to an event put on by the official fan community. (I guess I was never cool enough to figure out how to sneak backstage in the band’s early years…)
4. Simon LeBon and John Taylor have gotten active on Twitter. They are even tech savvy enough to post photos and videos using Twitter, so fans are getting little “day in the life” snippets regularly.
5. In conjunction with the “Duran Duran Unstaged” event, they have asked the fans to: (a) Contribute photos of their painted faces and hands (I gather this is supposed to be reminiscent of their classic video for “Rio”; producer Mark Ronson has said his goal with “All You Need is Now” was to help the band create a follow-up to the “Rio” album). Many of these photos were then featured as part of the live broadcast, some even serving as a backdrop at the Mayan Theater as the band performed on stage. In the days leading up to the show, the band sent many of them out via Twitter as well, which helped build excitement for the show. (b) Ask questions of the band via twitter, using the special tag #amexduranduran, so that questions could be selected and answered by the band during the pre-show event. (This is what I did.) (c) Tweet and/or post on Facebook during the event itself (a feed was provided right there on the VEVO page), with the promise that, when the “buzz” from the “social chatter” plus the excitement from the live audience reached a peak, a special memento from the event would be released to the fans on the site. (It turned out to be an mp3 of a full-length live recording of the single, “All You Need Is Now.”)
Note that these techniques for getting fans involved in the “Unstaged” event also had the fortuitous side-effect of having all those fans Tweet the band’s name even more than they had before, creating even more of a buzz.
So, what did I think of the live broadcast itself? It was excellent. Yes, I did have several minor complaints. They were: (1) Early on in the broadcast, I found the video stream to be choppy, even though the audio quality was great. That got corrected at some point fairly early on, so that the video quality matched that of the audio. (2) “Notorious” with Beth Ditto seemed to be a little rough, not as rehearsed as the other collaborations. I got the impression that she didn’t remember which parts she was supposed to be singing. Probably she was nervous, as she said. (I know I would be!) (3) I am no expert, but to me there was something that seemed off about the timing during the first half of “Rio”. If any of you listen to it (I think they’ve broken up the broadcast into individual videos for each song now), let me know if you agree. (4) At one point Simon LeBon made a gross joke about dogs; I thought he loved dogs! (5) I had minor quibbles with the choices Dom Brown made on guitar in some places, particularly in “Ordinary World,” where I think the guitar parts are so distinctive. (6) While I mostly found David Lynch’s additions of extraneous media to be interesting or at least unobtrusive, this was not true of the visuals he added to “Come Undone.” Too much of the guy pounding the spatula on the BBQ with hotdogs on it for my taste. Not sure about those stuffed animals, either.
See, I told you those were minor complaints. (They seem even less significant when we remember the context: this was a live performance.) The sound and video quality were overall excellent; after the first little while I didn’t notice any problems, which is how it should be. I did not watch the alternative video feeds that were available, just Lynch’s main feed. And I think that, aside from my minor quibbles, his direction made the broadcast better than the typical concert livestream. Perhaps when I was younger, I would have wanted every second of video to be devoted to a crystal-clear, close-up shot of one of the band members, but here I liked the balance between high-quality close-ups and interesting additional media, background shots, etc.
In terms of the set list, the mix of old and new songs seemed just about right. I was reminded of how good some of the old songs are: the band’s performance of “Planet Earth” and “Careless Memories,” from their first album (released 30 years ago!), were standouts. And I think the live performance had the desired effect of making the songs from “All You Need Is Now” grow on me even more. I’ll need to give the entire album another few listens before reaching a final verdict but, besides the title track, I had already grown fond of “Girl Panic!” and “Man Who Stole a Leopard”, along with one song they didn’t play last night, “Before the Rain.” The live performance made me want to give “Blame the Machines” another listen as well. I was impressed by the way LeBon managed his voice during the hard-to-sing parts of some of the songs, especially “Ordinary World” (which, by the way, is one of their best songs overall). And, despite the timing problem I thought I heard in “Rio,” and a couple minor quibbles I had with Dom Brown’s choices on guitar, all the musicians sounded great to me — including the saxophone, string section, and back-up singer. In sum, it was a high quality live performance worth any fan’s time and money.