In Duran Duran's 1985 James Bond movie megahit "A View to a Kill," frontman Simon Le Bon sings pleadingly yet confidently of the chance to find a phoenix. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy for the new wave icons: after sliding further down the charts in the late '80s, the Birmingham, UK group were reborn with the anthemic single "Ordinary World" off their 1993 self-titled album. With last year's album Paper Gods, Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Roger Taylor danced out of the ashes of a lagging 2000s discography with collaborations like the Nile Rodgers and Janelle Monáe-assisted "Pressure Off," reinvigorating the band.
When Le Bon yelled, "Is anybody hungry?" at their Ottawa's RBC Bluesfest headlining set last night (July 16), the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of thousands happily answered a resounding "Yes!" with their cheers. Between the resurgence of new wave in mainstream pop music, the band's personal fitness, and never-ending boy band nostalgia, Duran Duran made it clear they're on their best footing in years and still know how to charm a festival audience into thinking they're dancing on the sand.
By now, Bluesfest attendees are used to waiting for the sound of thunder. Luckily, Duran Duran managed to hold back the rain and built up both the crowd and their own storm though sound effects, fog and flashes of light on City Stage before starting with Paper Gods' rock opera-esque title track. The band then launched into a run of their biggest '80s hits without hesitation, including the screeching guitar of "Wild Boys," the iconic "doot-doots" of "Hungry Like the Wolf" and the orchestral hits of "A View to a Kill."
Le Bon still elicits screams from men and women alike, sending the crowd into a fervor with high-kicks and winks. Showboating aside, Le Bon's voice was in impressive shape, showing a much more controlled vibrato on songs like Paper Gods' "What Are the Chances," contrasting the yelps of the group's '80s catalogue.
John Taylor, one of the best bass players to come out of new wave, was instrumental to laying the foundation for grooves on songs such as "Pressure Off." Roger Taylor, meanwhile, even added new live drums to songs like the bombastic "I Don't Want Your Love," bringing new life to Duran Duran's more dated fan favourites. While founding keyboardist Rhodes was attending to a family emergency and sorely missed, American singer-songwriter and producer MNDR filled in, living up to Rhodes' synth lines and adding her own touch of glamour.
For their encore of Rio's synthpop ballad "Save a Prayer" and that album's soaring title track, Le Bon reemerged with a shirt that proudly displayed the year 1978 across his chest — Duran Duran's founding year. Their capability to still deliver energized festival sets 38 years on is a feat that seems to indicate that their fans will gladly dance into the fire with them for years to come.