Synopsis: Duran Duran: Live from London is the first live concert release with the five original band members reunited, filmed at the prestigious Wembley Arena in London during their 25th anniversary reunion tour.
eyelights: the choice of tracks. the renditions.
eyesores: the band’s initial lack of vigour.
On May 11, 2001, over fifteen years after they first parted ways, Duran Duran’s classic “Fab Five” line-up reunited for some recording sessions, leading to some 25th anniversary concerts in 2003. The shows were so popular that they led to an international tour.
The tour culminated with a series of five sold out performances at the Wembley Arena from April 13 to May 1, 2004. The final two shows were recorded and edited together for a home video release, ‘Live from London’, which was released on October 25, 2005.
By that point, their reunion album, ‘Astronaut‘, had already been out for over a year, and had done rather well, sending Duran Duran back to the top of the charts for the first time in a decade. It only made sense to release a tie-in product to sustain the band’s momentum.
I was immediately interested, having enjoyed the album a fair bit, and bought the Deluxe edition as soon as it was financially viable. Said edition included an exclusive live CD, and there are claims that the DVD has features not on the regular edition (I can’t confirm this).
What I didn’t know at the time was that this show was recorded before the album was released, perhaps even before it was completed. It might not have made a difference to me anyway, but it explains why there are disappointingly few ‘Astronaut’ tracks in it.
To make matters even more interesting is the fact that the band’s renditions of these sole two tracks are different from the album’s: “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise” is apparently based on a remix of it, and “What Happens Tomorrow” has a different verse midway.
This serves to support my notion that ‘Astronaut’ was incomplete at the time, but it’s disappointing in light of the fact that the DVD was released after the album was released, which naturally leads fans to believe that it was a document of the tour in support of it.
(and no, the packaging doesn’t say anything to support or contradict that notion)
The programme begins by taking us right into the 12,500-seater arena, filled to the brim with Duran Duran fans old and new. It’s shot in such a way that Wembley looks massive, intimidatingly so; it’s hard to imagine that the band was able to sell out five dates at this venue.
Our first signs of the reunited “Fab Five” are shadowy figures walking on stage, barely visible in the flashing lights. Then the lights went on. I suspect that this was meant to be enigmatic, to be a slow reveal, but it lacked excitement. They should have exploded onto the stage.
The stage set-up was simple, with a circular front and small extensions for the band. The lighting rig was also circular and didn’t do anything spectacular. The only effects to speak of were the screens behind the band, which gradually became more animated as the show wore on.
In any event, Duran started the show with Simon repeating “The music between us” over and over again, before kicking into set opener “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise”. It’s an instant crowd pleaser, with its infectious chorus, but that weak intro should be dropped.
Duran Duran, all slick in their suit jackets (with the exception of Roger, whose skin-pounding arms need space) took to the stage with ease, like the mature pros that they are. They even genuinely seemed to be having fun from time to time, as they went through their hits.
It was interesting to see how Andy (who was sporting a John Mellencamp hairdo) was a lone wolf, and didn’t interact much with the others – nor did they make many attempts to interact with him. I wondered if all of his past lawsuits were firmly buried in the past.
Simon did his best to work up the crowd, miming to them and trying to connect, but I’ve seen him in better form. In fact, he appeared ill-looking to me, a bit greasy and stubbly. And when he tried to jump onto the stage during one of the songs, it was an awkward landing.
He did have some excellent moments, however, with extended vocalizations at the tail end of a few songs and hitting the notes at key moments. Sadly, his vocal range isn’t what it used to be and, for this show, he sometimes couldn’t muster it up as well as we’d want him to.
The band delivered a mostly sedate performance, moving about the stage, but generating none of the energy they had once been known for. In all fairness, it’s possible that the editing interfered with its incessantly cuts, making it hard to get a proper read on things.
But they perked up by the end, with an appreciable vigour taking hold by the last four or five songs. Andy even seemed to rejoin the fold once and for all, which made for a much more enjoyable group dynamic. At that point, Duran delivered the performance fans came to see.
Musically, they were spot on right from the onset: they delivered some faithful and superb renditions of their songs, with “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Union of the Snake”, “The Chauffeur” and the single/remix version of “The Reflex” being some of the many standouts.
I was thrilled that they performed a deep album cut: the dark, if not ominous, “Nightboat” to a modern audience – no doubt eliciting WTFs from the younger contingent. It’s a brilliantly atmospheric piece that is slow to build up and unusual for Duran, and I love it for exactly that.
Another highlight for me was “Careless Memories”, not just because it’s one of the punchier tracks in Duran Duran’s catalog, but because they had manga-style animated drawings of themselves in action against masked assailants and a kaiju. It was cheap-looking but cool.
The most interesting performance came during “I Don’t Want Your Love”, which was transformed into heavy funk-rock number. It was very different. Not bad, not good, but interesting. Sarah Brown, the background singer, did some crazy awesome soul vocals here.
Another interesting rendition was “Ordinary World”, which found Andy playing guitar throughout – which would have been fine if he wasn’t so present in the mix, burying the rest. And there was an extended jam during “Girls on Film” for the band introductions, which was nice.
Interestingly, the mix lacks weight, with the drums on “Is There Something I Should Know?” and the tribal beats of “The Wild Boys” lacking presence. “Planet Earth” also sounded a bit dull to me, deprived of its the usual fire, even though Duran Duran were spot on.
Thankfully, this DVD delivers a much richer sound than the one on ‘Live at Wembley 2004‘, which featured a few of the same performances. I suspect that it was remixed since that time. Either way, it’s an improvement. But it could have been improved some more.
Still, all in all, I was rather pleased with this show. I wished that the band performed with more vigour than this, but I suppose that it’s not fair to expect them to be the same band as they were two decades ago. They certainly sounded good, though, and that’s of primary importance.
I’m sure I’ll play it again in the future.
1. (Reach Up for the) Sunrise 8.0
2. Hungry Like the Wolf 8.5
3. Is There Something I Should Know? 7.25
4. Union of the Snake 8.5
5. Come Undone 8.0
6. A View to a Kill 8.25
7. What Happens Tomorrow 7.75
8. The Chauffeur 8.75
9. Planet Earth 7.5
10. I Don’t Want Your Love 7.5
11. New Religion 7.5
12. Ordinary World 8.5
13. Night Boat 8.5
14. Save a Prayer 8.5
15. Notorious 8.0
16. The Reflex 8.0
17. Careless Memories 8.0
18. The Wild Boys 8.25
19. Girls on Film 8.5
20. Rio 8.25
The DVD is stocked with approximately an hour and a half of special features, which certainly was welcome.
3D: This is the same concert performance of “I Don’t Want Your Love”, but in black and white and processed in anaglyph 3D (i.e. it requires those red/blue glasses to watch). The process adds depth, but I don’t really see the point, aside for the gimmickiness of it. To make matters worse, there’s only one pair of glasses, which you have to tear out of the booklet. Firstly, a collector would never want to do that. Secondly, wouldn’t someone want to watch it with a friend? Why only one pair? 6.0
Documentary: This is a 27-minute run-through of the band’s history with each of them doing separate interviews, in black and white. The rest of the footage, which includes much behind-the-scenes footage, is in colour.
It’s par for the course, as far as this sort of thing goes. Firstly, they cover the band’s origins with the help of old pictures, lyrics, and other archival material. Nick, Roger and John go wandering about looking for their old haunts, which could have been cool if they could get in. Alas. Surely due to the limited duration of the piece, they skip previous members, making it sound like they just got together right from the start.
They all take turns explaining when they started being interested in playing music, and a few of them talk about the types of bands they were in before Duran Duran (Roger was in punk bands, and Simon in new wave ones, for instance). Naturally they cover their influences, which are quite varied, including rock, electronic, punk, …etc. Roger says that Duran is basically glam rock, punk and disco blended together.
They also cover the writing/recording process, the live shows, the struggles and pressures of being stars – explaining that they couldn’t keep it together and gradually grew apart because of it. To be expected, they discussed the reunion, which was instigated by Simon paying John a visit. They talk about the tour, the fans, the stage set-up and the visuals, before a quick conclusion on the future of the band.
It’s not bad for only 27 minutes; it’s average, but well-produced. Hey, I got more out of this than with “Extraordinary World‘, if that means anything. Plus I didn’t have to contend with Warren’s egotism. 7.5
Photo Gallery: This is basically a 6-minute slide show of concert pictures, to the tune of “Save a Prayer”. It’s nothing special. 5.0
Song Commentary: This one is an unusual feature. It’s a series of song-specific commentaries by Duran Duran, with each of them commenting over two concert performances a piece. The menu consists of the band members lined up side-by-side, each of them playing guitar. One simply has to highlight the band member one wants to listen to, after which two song titles appear at the bottom of the screen. From there you choose your poison and the DVD takes you to that concert performance, with the band member talking over it.
A View to a Kill: John talks about recording the song, how it came together, amongst other things.
Notorious: He discusses the history of the song and the influences that brought it about. He also talks about Roger and Andy playing it now, for the first time.
Sunrise: He talks about the genesis of song, of starting shows with it and fan reactions to it.
Hungry Like the Wolf: Here he brings up the importance of the song for Duran (being a turning point for them in the US) and the making of the video. He also comments on the dynamic within the band, the creative tension.
The Chauffeur: Simon really likes the video, even though they initially had reservations about making one they weren’t in. He also talks about how atmospheric the song is, how much emotional depth it has.
Ordinary World: He acknowledges here that this song kept the band alive during the ’90s, adding a bit about the inspiration for the song: wanting to move on after his friend’s death.
Come Undone: Nick approaches this one from a more technical standpoint, and also comments on the effect it has on the mood of the show.
What Happens Tomorrow: He says that this one was written in the aftermath of 9/11, after watching news footage and seeing an interview with a young boy. He also discusses Simon’s skill with harmonies.
Is There Something I Should Know: Andy talks about the creation of this song, and how releasing it as a stand-alone single kept momentum between albums. He adds that it can be challenging to play.
New Religion: Here he explains that this one came about because Duran Duran wanted to expand musically, to write more complex stuff. He says it still is one of their more complex ones, adding that it would have made for a great video.
I found the commentaries lengthy and interesting, but if there’s anything that might be disappointing for some is that you can tell that they didn’t just talk straight through; it was edited together for some reason (various takes? various sources? for continuity?). 7.5
So, would I recommend ‘Live from London’? Absolutely. I think that it’s essential for Duran Duran fans – it is, after all, the only available record of their “Fab Five” reunion. Is it perfect? No. And would I start with this disc to introduce newbies to the band? No.
This programme captures a specific moment in time for the band, and one that is significant in their career, but it doesn’t put their full potency on display. It’s a great overview of their career up to that point, and it’s very enjoyable, however it doesn’t recapture the magic.
But I won’t cry for yesterday.
Date of viewing: March 30, 2015