Despite the claim made by an electronic sign announcing tickets were still available for Duran Duran’s appearance at Hyde Park, in the gold circle towards the front of the stage there was barely room to breathe. Gathered for the Birmingham group’s two-hour headline set, the crowd on the final night of the nine-date British Summer Time festival felt bigger than for Pearl Jam, Eagles and, even, The Rolling Stones. Eyeing up the scene from a barrier by a sound tower, a man with a pint said, “I dunno, I reckon there’s a lot of mid-life crises going on here.”
If one measurement of artistic success is an ability to keep hold of your original audience, last night Duran Duran played a blinder. As an army of glamourous fiftysomethings danced with abandon on kindling-dry grass, the musicians on stage looked like vividly presentable versions of their younger selves.
Dressed in a high-visibility suit, keyboardist Nick Rhodes resembled the younger man who adorned the cover of Smash Hits every other week. Despite occasionally sounding like he’d spent part of his time backstage watching a YouTube video on how to learn slap-bass techniques inside of an hour, John Taylor retained the ability to break hearts from a hundred yards.
Adorned in a salmon-pink sports coat and silver trousers, singer Simon Le Bon occupied the role of the group’s personable heart. But despite hitting the high notes with admirable aplomb – actually, his vocals on opening track The Wild Boys were a good deal better than they were in 1984 – his overall presence was only roughly equal to that of a merely competent frontman. As the set fell into a lull during the listless pairing of the appropriately titled Come Undone and Give it All Up, it was easy to imagine him wowing a crowd as a member of Duran Duran tribute band in a club in the West Midlands.
This impression wasn’t helped by the realisation that not all of the group’s material is world-class. Amid a sluggish opening hour, duds such as Union of the Snake and Invisible served only to test the enthusiasm of an audience whose patience perhaps only seemed limitless. Even the appearance of Nile Rogers – whose earlier special guest slot with his own group, Chic, provided a higher people-per-square-yard ratio than even Duran Duran – wasn’t enough to elevate the frigid funk of Notorious.
Compared with this, though, the show’s second half was a revelation. With an uptick that began with Hungry Like the Wolf, a sequence of hits the equal of almost anything from a remarkable period in British pop history was at last able to showcase Duran Duran’s sometimes remarkable gift for writing and arranging.
If the latter talent was most in evidence on an exquisite rendition of the million-selling Ordinary World – the track even warranted its well-judged dedication to the people of Ukraine – songs such as The Reflex, Girls on Film and set-closer Rio were themselves resplendent enough to recall the world of the photogenic and the self-assured into which they were born. Beneath darkening skies, the crowd danced as if it was 1983 at last.
With that, the night was over. By the time you read this, at Hyde Park an army of riggers will be halfway through their task of dismantling a stage the size of the Royal Liver building. Although the money-printing machine known as British Summer Time will doubtless be back, its organisers would do well to take note of a concern that is growing graver by the day. The average age of this summer’s suite of headliners was 64. Rock’s demographic time bomb continues to tick.