It took Duran Duran 37 years from the debut of their classic lineup before the band performed in Hawaii for the first time Sunday night at the Blaisdell Arena. It took less than 0.37 seconds for its Hawaii fans to show their aloha, even if it did take about 37 minutes for Duran Duran’s first show in Hawaii to really get going.
After a nearly four-decade wait that included a canceled show in 1994, Duran Duran’s Hawaii fans were primed. When the lights went down and some silhouettes made their way onto the stage, the screams started. Those long-suffering fans went crazy for the opening notes of … “Paper Gods,” a 2015 song most in the audience likely weren’t familiar with.
The choice of an opener was both obvious and strange. Sure, it’s the title track off the album the tour is named after, but it’s a bit midtempo and didn’t set the crowd off the way one of the faster-paced hits might have. A better pick would have been “Notorious,” with that fantastic a cappella opening, or even “Is There Something I Should Know?,” with its simple kickoff — singer Simon Le Bon chanting “please please tell me now” over Roger Taylor’s thumping drums.
The misstep seemed to slow the crowd’s momentum. Duran Duran followed with three of their biggest hits — “The Wild Boys,” “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “A View to a Kill” — and while the audience was responsive, Le Bon — a charismatic and charmingly chatty frontman — seemed to be seeking an energy from them that he wasn’t quite getting.
That energy came almost halfway through the 100-minute show when the band launched into the above-mentioned “Notorious.”
“Now for something a little bit funky!” Le Bon exclaimed, and the crowd went wild. Le Bon had shed his jacket, almost as if it was time to get to work. The band as a whole seemed to take things up a notch. The playing was tight, the energy electric.
Most remarkable was that they kept it going the rest of the way. There was no letdown. Though Sunday night marked exactly 37 years since the debut of Duran Duran’s classic lineup at the Rum Runner in Birmingham, England, the boys have aged gracefully. They can all still slip easily into their skinny jeans, and their playing is as tight as ever, even if they are down one of those members from their peak. (For his part, Le Bon observed that their fans have also kept up appearances, flirting with the whole arena earlier in the show: “You guys waited a long time! … Age has not withered you. Definitely a ‘yes we would’ crowd.”)
After “Notorious” came “Pressure Off,” the best track off the “Paper Gods” album, and it fared much better than the three songs from that release that the band played in the show’s inconsistent first half. Backup singer Anna Ross filled in more than ably for Janelle Monae’s cameo on the album version.
Some smoke effects and confetti helped keep the crowd jacked, and the high carried into the album cut “Hold Back the Rain,” which got a big enough reaction to make you wonder if it might be every fan’s secret favorite track off “Rio.”
The night’s most poignant moment followed, as Le Bon dedicated “Ordinary World,” to his “beautiful, lovely” mother, Ann-Marie, who died last month. The audience seemed to really connect — many of them have been in love with him for 30-plus years, after all — and the arena was alight with cell phones.
The band motored through “I Don’t Want Your Love” and “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise,” which incorporated the chorus from “New Moon On Monday,” before raising their game to yet another level with … “White Lines”?
Yeah, really. The remake of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s hip-hop classic from Duran Duran’s much-maligned 1995 covers album “Thank You” proved a surprising highlight of the show. Much of the crowd was on its feet dancing and kept doing so through “Girls on Film,” which closed the main set.
The band returned to the stage after a few minutes, with Le Bon draped in the Hawaiian flag.
“We love this flag,” Le Bon said, noting the presence of his country’s Union Jack in the upper left corner. “We love this place. It’s fantastic. We wanna come back here again and again and again …”
He then introduced “Save a Prayer” as the next song, calling on the audience for a singalong and to put their cell phone flashlights to use. “I know you used a lot of battery in ‘Ordinary World,’ ” he said, “but who you gonna call this late on a Sunday?”
The fans obliged, and momentum carried through “The Reflex,” which the band returned to their set last week for the first time in more than six months, and the encore finale “Rio,” the crowd whooping the moment Patrick Nagel’s iconic cover art was displayed on the background video screen.
More smoke and confetti were called into service, along with a half-dozen beach balls, about 4 feet in diameter, which bounced atop the floor audience, a nice enhancement of the song’s (and the video’s) sand and sea setting.
Le Bon also stepped aside for a bit, ceding the spotlight to John Taylor, whose classic bass line makes the song, and saxophonist Simon Willescroft, who provided an agile solo. Willescroft is not a main member of the band (keyboardist Nick Rhodes rounds out what is now a quartet with Le Bon and the two unrelated Taylors, John and Roger), but the core four were good about getting all the touring members some attention (including sharing the final bow).
Backing singers Anna Ross and Erin Stevenson stepped out from their platform many times to show their stuff — both their voices and their moves. And guitarist Dom Brown is great replacing the fifth member of the classic lineup — the third unrelated Taylor, Andy.
As crazy as fans went for Brown’s numerous solos Sunday night, one can imagine how insane the Andyphiles would go should he return. John Taylor has been known to compare the band to a box of chocolates, with every fan having their favorite, so Andy Taylor surely has many devotees who are disappointed he’s not with the group and would love to see him step back in, as John Taylor hinted in a recent interview could happen once the band plans its 40th anniversary festivities.
Maybe those plans will include a return to the islands it took Duran Duran so long to finally visit. Even if they don’t, after Sunday night’s show, the band can consider itself forgiven.