Review of “Duran Duran Unstaged” Live Concert Event, Directed by David Lynch

“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.

Well done!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Review of “Duran Duran Unstaged” Live Concert Event, Directed by David Lynch

  1. Edmund B.

    I look forward to and hope you will critique the esthetics of higher musical forms. Your sharp intellect would be better served for it. Much of this type of review could better apply to an operatic production of the master-composer Verdi or Kalman. In regards to video direction, the popular Mr. Lynch is no Fritz Lang [very far from it]; and, further, I wouldn’t expect him to direct a film worthy of esthetic Romanticism. More importantly, your bright and rational intellect shines brighter than either the musicianship or video direction.
    Best premises to you, Dr. Peikoff.

    • Edmund, it’s one thing to dislike the music that’s being written about here, quite another to be so reproachful towards those who do like it. And your “compliment” that it’s somehow beneath Amy to spend one moment considering the value of a band like Duran Duran disregards the fact that she does, in fact, value them, as is made clear by her review. Besides annoying me, your reply makes me want to turn on some Duran Duran for the first time.

  2. Edmund,
    I’m not sure what sort of music you were brought up with, but in my parents’ house it was Neil Diamond, Hellen Reddy, Roger Whittaker, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, etc. I think there was some heavy metal or harder, darker music thrown in there as well, but I didn’t care for it. No classical or operetta. So, given the choices of which I was aware in my preteen years, I didn’t think picking Duran Duran as my favorite was that bad.

    Obviously I don’t loooove them as much as I did when I was a teenager (that would not be possible 🙂 ), but as pop musicians go, they are among the best in terms of offering the total package. Generally melodic and benevolent, often excellent pop songwriting, plus all the attention to detail in terms of marketing and use of latest technology to connect with their fans. 30 years later, they are still going strong. I’m not yet convinced that there is an “Ordinary World” or “Planet Earth” on this album, unfortunately, but I am optimistic that they are still capable of turning one out.

    I’ve listened to quite a bit of classical over the years, and I’ve gone to countless classical, opera, or operetta performances. However, I don’t feel competent to review them, and I don’t have the nostalgic attachment to them that I do to Duran Duran. Sorry to disappoint you.

  3. Amy Nasir

    If I had to ascribe an Ayn Rand character to Duran Duran, it would be Cheryl Brooks, but without ever meeting Jim, and instead falling in love with Francisco. I remember a description of her as expecting a grand adventure behind every corner. She only considered interesting and important events in the news, and held an upward glance at the sight of each skyscraper, noting to herself that someone heroic had built them — and that she could make something of herself, and things like that did happen in New York all the time.

    This expectation that life is a grand adventure is what Duran Duran expresses in a highly stylized way. The conviction that — if you have high expectations in life, and the more risk you take, and effort you generate, regardless of short-term reward — your own forward-motion, done your own way is what makes life exciting and exalting.

    Amy is right — Duran Duran expects great things — and they achieve them as a band of artists, musicians and self-promoters in new technology.

    Here are a couple of my favorites:

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