‘Number two in Birmingham!” yells Simon Le Bon, kicking off a second sold-out home town show in the 1,500-capacity Institute. With fans crammed in like sardines, pandemic or no pandemic, and the band virtually in their faces, the much more intimate venue than Duran’s regular arenas gives a taste of what it must have been like to see them when they were the resident band at the Rum Runner club four decades ago.
The occasion – ahead of bigger shows – is to preview next month’s new album Future Past, from which tonight’s opener Invisible is taken. The brooding funk tune about a struggle to be heard in today’s world is helpfully illustrated when the band are all but drowned out by 1,500 screaming, middle-aged Durannies. 1983’s The Reflex and 1986’s Chic-influenced Notorious triggers waves of crowd hysteria that are never far away all night.
After two years off the road because of Covid, Duran have returned hungry like wolves and in absurdly fine fettle for men in their early 60s. Grinning bassist John Taylor seems to have defied the ageing process. Black-clad blond keyboardist Nick Rhodes still looks like Andy Warhol gone New Romantic. Le Bon might have put on a few pounds in lockdown but a few nights like this will soon shift them – the stage-starved singer looks as if he is having the time of his life. He revels in digging out his catalogue of stage moves, from singing at members of the front row individually to perfectly executed 360-degree twirls.
Le Bon, who camps it up remorselessly all night, suddenly adopts the mock-aristocratic voice of an old-school English actor. “I’m not going to say that in 1982 we became the biggest band in the world,” he teases, theatrically. “Even if it’s true.” It is.
There are two more new songs. Anniversary marries a bassline similar to Frankie’s Two Tribes to a trademark Duran chorus. Le Bon challenges the audience to sing Tonight United even though it was only aired for the first time the night before, and they do. Otherwise, Planet Earth takes the roof off and View to a Kill brings a Bond theme to a small room in Birmingham, but the career-spanning setlist delves deeper than those copper-bottomed 80s hits. Friends of Mine, from their debut, is the great DD single that never was: deeply New Romantic and electronic but with a chorus as big as any of them.
As the frontman observes, 1993’s sublime Ordinary World “takes on a new relevance” with the pandemic (“I won’t cry for yesterday, there’s an ordinary world, somehow I have to find”), and its crowd singalong makes for a real goosebump moment.
2004’s (Reach Up for the) Sunrise raises everybody’s arms accordingly. The band even hurl in their oft-ridiculed cover of Melle Mel’s White Lines (Don’t Do It) – the “just say no” of middle-aged white rock groups doing rap – and send it so far over the top that it brings the house down.
Girls on Film knowingly dips into Calvin Harris’s Acceptable in the 80s. The Wild Boys and Rio ease down the home straight with the roar and finesse of an expensive sports car, as the audience seize the last chance to yell along with their heroes. After what Le Bon calls “40 amazing years”, Duran Duran may no longer be world’s biggest band, but after all this time and at such close quarters it’s still obvious why they were.