Duran Duran: As the Lights Go Down

Duran Duran - As the Lights Go DownSynopsis: Taken from the 2010 remaster of ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’, this DVD contains As The Lights Go Down, a film conceived by Duran Duran and Russell Mulcahy, the videos from Seven and The Ragged Tiger and two Top of the Pops performances. Specially packaged in a clamshell box with lift off lid & includes an 8 page booklet, 5 postcards of individual band shots plus a collector’s folded poster that was used in the original Japanese LP.

***********************************************************************

Duran Duran: As the Lights Go Down 8.5

eyelights: the stylistic editing. the elaborate production. the band’s performance.
eyesores: the poor synching. the ADD-addled pace.

‘As the Lights Go Down’ is a television concert film of Duran Duran in 1984, at the tail end of their Sing Blue Silver tour. It was shot over the course of three nights at the Oakland Coliseum, a 15000-seater in California, and was trimmed down (from 18 tracks to 12) for a one-hour presentation on US and UK television later in the year.

This would be their last tour before a much-needed hiatus – one which would unexpectedly turn into a break-up.

It finds the so-called “Fab Five” at the height of their powers, confident, polished, and relishing every moment of the spotlight. The stage production was larger than for the ‘Rio’ tour, with a full complement that included background singers, a series of steps and large columns at the back, providing an epic Greek/Roman motif.

To get a sense of what this show looked like, one can simply think back to their video for “The Reflex”, which was shot a month earlier on this tour by the same director: Their hair is longer, teased, they’re wearing leather pants and jackets. The arena is massive, and it’s quite impressive to see so many people crammed into it like this.

‘As the Lights Go Down’ was constructed from many shots, clearly taken from some or all of the three tour dates (April 12, 13 and 15). It’s more of a video production than a concert film, really, in that it’s all about editing technique and special effects to enhance the performances; the songs aren’t even shown sequentially.

Although I t played on Cinemax and MTV, and had a large audience, neither the UK or European programmes were ever released on home video. This is likely due to the fact that the concert footage was re-edited to make the ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)’ film, which was released in many formats over the years, making this one seem redundant.

However, the track selections are different in both films, as is the sequence and the editing, so ‘As the Lights Go Down’ became a rarity and fan favourite that found itself bootlegged. Thankfully, in 2010, Duran Duran finally released it as part of the limited edition 2CD and 1DVD reissue of 1983’s ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’.

Although I have seen ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)’ before, this was my first time watching ‘As the Lights Go Down’.

1. Tiger Tiger: I always enjoyed this instrumental track on the album – even if, as a child, I didn’t know that it was separate from the next track, “The Seventh Stranger”. On DVD, this sounded very good, immersing the room completely. As this was just an intro before the band hit the stage, what viewers were treated to were beautiful shots of temples and sand dunes, and a pair of kids walking out of the desert to the arena, which at first appears desolate. 8.25

2. Is There Something I Should Know?: This is hardly my favourite song of theirs, but it’s the song that got me started on Duran Duran (long story… but it had everything to do with a girl I had an eye for in grade school). After the kids from “Tiger, Tiger” arrive in the main hall, the concert starts abruptly with a scream from a lookalike of the girl in the “Hungry Like the Wolf” video. Then come the drum beats… and the band exploded onto the stage. It’s a dynamic performance (Simon, in particular, is in top shape), with some visual enhancements along the way. Amazingly, the crowd is already hopping to the rhythm. 7.75

3. Hungry Like the Wolf: Simon, John and Andy jump towards the camera to start this song, effectively adding energy to it. The footage is enhanced by lots of split-screening. There’s this side-story of the “Hungry Like the Wolf” girl and a tiger prowling about the arena floor, hidden in the crowd; security gets dispatched to find them (strangely, there’s a sound drop as we watch them run down the halls). The back of the stage is lit with inscrutable designs and, later, Simon ends up on a Mayan temple-like set with weird-looking guys and the tiger prowling about. 8.5

4. Union of the Snake: One the classics (for which the video played incessantly at the time), this concert performance is bolstered by lots of footage of a futuristic set with a pool of green fluorescent liquid in it. From the pool emerge robotic creatures, while random computer data scrolls on the screen. Two of the robots start to make out in the pool, as the computer’s protests fill the screen. I don’t know what it means and how it pertains to the song, but it was something to behold. 8.5

5. New Religion: Another weird one. Deep behind the stage, the backdrop of a pyramidal set can be seen. The film starts to pan back and forth between Duran Duran’s performance and shots of cocooned men hanging from the ceiling, slowly breaking out, unraveling themselves. Then one of the cocoon guys dances on the pyramid set in tattered clothes, soon to be joined by a few others for a choreographed number. For some reason, the song didn’t do much for me this time. 7.75

6. Save a Prayer: As with previous tours, Simon shows up with his acoustic guitar for this song. The production is simple: it’s mostly he and Nick, under low lights with a starry backdrop – with footage of the song’s video incorporated into the mix (later, a montage of shots from many of their other videos is shown). The crowd has their lighters out, adding to the starry backdrop – it’s quite impressive with 15 thousand people. Unfortunately, the song is faded out before its completion for an aerial shot of the stadium and a mid-eastern male chant. That was disappointing, given how awesome the full song is. 8.0

7. Rio: There’s not much to this one. For this song, large inflatable balls float around the arena and are kicked around by the band. Effects are added to give the impression that someone is caught inside them, à la ‘The Prisoner’. It’s a fairly poor effect. Towards the end, some of the balloons are popped by audience members and explode into pixels/dust. What sucks is that the audio didn’t synch very well here, with Simon seeming a fraction of a second off most of the time. Most people wouldn’t notice but it distracted me; I kept wondering if it was a problem with my DVD or my player. 8.0

8. The Seventh Stranger: To me, this was always a paltry attempt at recreating “Save a Prayer”, but it has some great vocal melodies in it. And it’s a good album closer, if a middling  follow-up to the blistering “Rio”. This was superb visually, though, because it was composed of many frames opening and closing around the band members, leaving large parts of the screen black. It was stylish and dynamic. It was my favourite part of the show, editing-wise. 8.0

9. The Chauffeur: One of my all-time Duran songs, it has a superb keyboard lick and pulsating rhythm that comes through nicely here. We begin this one on the pyramid set and there are 4-5 men hung from these large crutch-like supports, two each, looking dead or passed out. Simon is one of them, and he stays on his back, singing with his head cocked back, upside down. Later in the video, Simon is walking around the futuristic pool set wearing a cap. Male and female creatures come out of the shadows, ominously. Then young boys appear as well. Simon ends up on the concert stage playing the flute. Elaborate, nonsensical, but stylish. And a fantastic song. 9.5

10. Planet Earth: Blue paint/water pours down the large screen above the stage (I’m not sure if it’s a real screen, but it often looks like it was added in post-production). Aside from the concert footage, there are shots of fans dancing, aerial shots of the venue, and a helicopter. Out of nowhere, blue lightning crosses the arena and hits people (including band members). It’s an interesting effect. Then the song ends with explosions of water from the “screen”. It’s an excellent performance, but the mix is muddy, lacking vibrancy. Something was amiss on this one, but I’m not sure exactly what. 7.75

11. Careless Memories: I’m a big fan of this song, due to its awesome guitar and bass intro, which pretty much propels it. It just didn’t work as much here as it does on the ‘Arena’ CD for some reason (it might just be the mix). This one starts with a close-up of Simon’s eyes, but it soon goes into traditional concert footage – which was a high energy performance by the band. This time, the only effect are large “screens” on which artsy videos play. Again, this one ends with aerial shots. 8.0

12. Girls On Film: After the deflating aerial shot, we come back to the concert to see Simon instructing the audience to sing along to this one, teasing them that it’s only three words. The lights then dim and the stage is awash in blue lights and smoke. Despite Simon’s efforts, at first we can’t really hear the crowd singing along to the chorus, but by the end it’s loud and clear. Meanwhile, there are shots of roller-derbying women in lingerie on a white set. It reminded me of ‘The Running Man‘ for some reason. There’s an excellent bass solo during the bridge, just before the final push. However, bizarrely, the song is briefly interrupted by a credit for each band member, after which the song closes with the end credits overtop. That sort of killed it. The final shot is a bird’s-eye view of some limousines driving out of the arena, presumably carrying the band. 8.25

‘As the Light Go Down’ is a super fun concert film. It’s extremely elaborate and they pulled out all the stops to make it exciting. The problem with it is that the gimmicks overrun the band’s performance, which was obviously very good. But we couldn’t appreciate it as is – there was too much going on at once and the camera never settled on anyone long enough.

Basically, for anyone wanting to see Duran Duran in their prime, this is an essential document: one easily sees what they were about, what made them the most popular band in the world for a couple of years. Bolstered by excellent video and a very nice audio track, a remarkably clear one all things considered (were there studio overdubs?), it’s a total winner.

But there’s more! The DVD also features the ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ videos as well as a couple of Tops of the Pops’ performances:

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

The ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ videos

1. Is There Something I Should Know?: Released as a stand-alone single between the ‘Rio’ and Seven and the Ragged Tiger’ albums, “Is There Something I Should Know?” was a massive hit for Duran Duran. In fact, despite their popularity back home, this was actually their first number 1 single in the UK. The single sold well over a million copies and the video was extremely popular, becoming one of the most played videos on MTV in 1983. Personally, I don’t much like the song, but it does have a fair bit of bounce to it, especially at the end.

The video is stylistic, not far removed from the one from “My Own Way”, in some fashion. The band is all dressed in a very New Romantic style, with black pants, blue shirts with yellow ties tucked in. They’re posing on a white set with Escher-like elevated steps and boxes, leaving dark shadows on the walls. It’s framed in an unusual way, much like the concert’s “The Seventh Stranger”, leaving chunks of the screen blacked out (they both had the same director). There’s also footage of a boy playing in the woods, a baby crawling on the floor of the set, and businessmen reading newspapers outside of a large bank or measuring trees in the woods – all slightly surrealistic. Footage from Duran’s previous videos is also superimposed. It’s all very Simon-centric, with the rest of Duran Duran mostly showing up to sing the chorus. It’s funny to watch the band members sing at the end, ’cause Roger doesn’t look like he wants to be there – he looks sullen, uncomfortable, embarrassed, even. 7.25/8.25

2. Union of the Snake: The first single from ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’, this was a smash hit around the world and remains one of Duran Duran’s most popular songs. Admittedly, it’s super catchy; it’s got a superb bass line rhythm going for it. It sounded a bit light to me while watching the video, but it might just be because the video is so dark comparatively – you’d half-expect gothic or industrial music to accompany it.

The video begins with Simon and John walking around sand dunes, lost. There’s a weird lizard man prowling about, presumably eyeing them. The pair find a truck but it won’t start. At night, while John is sleeping, a girl in a red bellhop costume appears and leads Simon to a lift protruding out of the ground. It takes them underground into the lizard people’s lair, which is mysterious, cathedral-like. There’s a small circus-like atmosphere in there, and we find Nick perusing some scrolls. Simon falls under threat by the lizard people, but Andy arrives and helps him and a small boy break free. Simon wakes up on the sand dunes and is rescued by a horseman. It’s not entirely decipherable, but it’s a remarkably entertaining video. 8.0/9.25

3. New Moon on Monday (EP version): I’ve long found this song to be a bit of a filler track, so I was surprised to find out that it had been released as a single – the second one from the album, no less. In all fairness, though, the album didn’t have a lot of potential singles on it. I’m not alone to think little of the song, as its chart success paled in comparison to recent singles. Personally, I didn’t even see the video for it until way later, on the ‘Greatest’ collection.

The video begins with a Frenchman in mime make-up on a theatre stage, introducing a show. A beautiful young woman sees Simon watching the rehearsal and sends a soldier to check his papers. He then goes off with the woman on a motorcycle. Meanwhile, the others are preparing an underground operation. Simon and the girl arrive at a café and meet with the others. They go out to distribute leaflets. By night, they go out into the streets waving flags, torches and fireworks as they are surrounded by soldiers on horseback. Somehow they drive the soldiers away. Then everyone celebrates under the fireworks-filled sky. The song is too light; it doesn’t fit the video at all, given the revolutionary theme. You’d need something edgier to make it work. As it stands, the video feels disjointed. 6.75/8.0

4. The Reflex: I always loved the single version of this track (as used for the video) because it has such a hooky lead-in. When I got ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’, I was disappointed with the version on it – even if it’s undoubtedly a strong opening to the album. This is super catchy stuff, in particular Simon’s “Why-yay-yay-yay-yay” turn during the chorus..

The video mostly consists of concert footage shot during the ‘Sing Blue Silver’ tour. It starts with white noise over shots of the background singers dancing and leading the chorus, building up the song’s intro nicely. The band’s performance is excellent, of course, blasting onto the stage. The video is highlighted by screen shots of silhouetted figures posing in front of fluorescent red or blue screens, as well as by interesting framing techniques. At the end, water pours out of the large screen onto the crowd. 8.25/7.5

5. New Moon on Monday (Movie version): Rooted in an extended remix that has long instrumental, if not atmospheric, bits, the “Movie version” of this song, as it’s called, is the full-length video which was truncated for the so-called “EP version”. It’s 17 minutes long. The footage is the same, but there’s just way more of it here, fleshing out the story.

It starts in a theatre. A play is being rehearsed in a large French theatre. Simon arrives, sits down to watch the rehearsals. He catches the eye of a young woman in the balcony. She send out a guard to check his papers, after which he’s taken backstage. There’s lots of activity there. He crosses paths with Roger, who’s working to the sound of “Union of the Snake” in the background. Simon is given his papers back, and is left alone with this beautiful girl. She offers to help him, claiming that she wants revenge. Simon pretends not to know what she’s talking about. She leads him outside and takes him on a motorcycle ride. Soldiers are oppressing people on the streets as they pass by. Roger leaves the theatre to meet up with Andy, who’s making leaflets in an underground printing facility. Meanwhile, John and Nick are taking boxes out into a horse-drawn cart. They all make their way to an old European town and gather in a café and wait together. An old woman spots them and indicates that they should follow her. She shows them a secret control room in the basement. Then the band goes out and distributes the leaflets to passersby. By night, they come out and rouse the populace in protest. The girl sneaks away and alerts a bunch of soldiers on horseback soldiers of this activity. The soldiers come to the courtyard, but are surrounded and scared off. Everyone celebrates, even the girl, who is waving a flag and dancing with the others for an extended period of time. 7.5/9.0

Top of the Pops performances

As with the ‘Live at Hammersmith ’82!’ DVDs, there are only two Top of the Pops performances assigned to this era. I’m surprised, given that even their debut album had three – and Duran Duran were nowhere nearly as popular then. Having said that, it’s no great loss as these mimed performances are a ghastly creation anyway – they made sense in the sixties, when technology limited live recordings, but by the eighties it’s plain ridiculous.

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Is There Something I Should Know?: As with previous Tops of the Pops performances, this one starts abruptly. It’s reminiscent of one their 1981 appearance for “Girls On Film”: Duran Duran is in the middle of a dance floor, with people “dancing” (shuffling, really) around them. Sadly, the band is phoning it in. Fancy lights in the back give it a discothèque vibe (there’s even a rotating light reminiscent of a disco ball above them). It ends with an abrupt fade out and with the crowd cheering. Sigh… the artificiality of TOTP is dispiriting. 7.0/6.0

2. The Reflex: As with the video, this is the remix/single version of the song, not the album version. This performance is nothing special, but at least the band is faking it well this time. There are people dancing all around but also behind them on the steps leading to a platform. It’s a peculiar, shabby-looking set, filled with balloons. The crowd half-hearted pays attention, seemingly disinterested. And then it all ends, with yet another horrible fade out. TOTP really sucked. 8.25/6.5

In the end, I am quite pleased with this disc. Although it comes as bonus material for the remastered album, I’d have to say that this is by far the biggest prize of the set; there have been complaints about the remastering of the audio tracks on the two CDs, and the bonus disc consists of mostly previously-released material (only three tracks were not previously released on CD).

So this rare treat, which had not been officially available since first being broadcast in 1984, is the key reason for getting the limited edition set. While some people will be satisfied with having ‘Arena (An Absurd Notion)’, this is a must-have for die-hard fans of Duran Duran: it not only includes the show, but also collects the band’s TV clips as well. It’s well-worth picking up.

Date of viewing: February 26, 2014

Advertisements

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s