Duran Duran
Tokyo July 12, 2003

When Pearl Jam unleashed their 3,000 live albums at once a few years ago, they pioneered what is already becoming one of the most exciting trends in music consumerism: the official bootleg phenomenon. Since then, several other artists have dipped their toe in the water with special (usually online-only) live releases that would never otherwise see mass release. Finally, the die-hard fans are getting what they deserve – real CD "warts-and-all" documents of entire tours by their favorite bands.

It's an idea that should be pursued by more bands. As much as I respect Pearl Jam for making all their shows affordably and attractively available on CD, I wouldn't actually want to listen to any of those CDs, much less several of them. Some artists, though, I would, and it's nice to see bootlegs being taken out of the hands of bootleggers, who by and large don't package their shit well enough.

Duran Duran's initial reunion tour, mainly in Japan and some US shows, has been issued in full by the forward-thinking website TheMusic. Though ostensibly "warts-and-all," some of these CDs have actually been edited, with better performances swapped in for the few occassions when things got too off-key to release to the public. That's okay. I'm not all that purist about it. Duran Duran doesn't vary their set much, and one show is about as good as another, seems to me.

Tokyo July 12, 2003 appears to be the best of the crop – it features all the songs played on that tour (some shows omitted one or two), and it's one of the only sets that was released unedited.

This was an "on" night for Duran Duran, whose live experience will appeal to you in direct proportion to your overall interest in them. In other words, DD doesn't convert anyone to fandom on the strength of their live show (as demonstrated by their incredibly patchy but engaging live album Arena from back in the day).

The sound on this one is better than on Arena – it's a perfectly balanced soundboard recording, no flaws to speak of. The performance is pretty tight, although as with many bands who make their living preaching to the choir, there's a rather high quotient of vocals screamed instead of sung – Simon Le Bon clearly gets caught up in the adoration, and hams it up accordingly, though not in a "Cheap Trick at your local county fair" sort of way. These guys still have most of the coolness they once had, paunchier though they may be.

The setlist hits all the right buttons (though I'd have liked more Seven and the Ragged Tiger stuff) – some choice obscurities, most of the popular favorites, and not too much meandering in between. "Friends of Mine," which was like track 8 on the band's debut album, opens the show on a surprising note, managing to convey a good deal of eager anticipation. It's like they're saying: "Hey, we've been damn good from the get-go, all you revisionist fuckwits who bailed on us in the 90s."

Also refreshing and strong are "Save a Prayer," "Notorious," "Planet Earth," "Come Undone," and, somehow, "White Lines," which is one of the band's best singles, though no one wants to admit that. The big hits ("Hungry Like the Wolf," "Ordinary World," "Is There Something I Should Know?," "A View to a Kill," "Wild Boys," "Rio," "The Reflex") sound as you'd expect, pretty close to the original versions. "Girls on Film" makes an extremely strong closer, leaving you with an excitement that is a bit more than the show overall warranted.

Not an incendiary, blistering, revelatory show by any means … but then, Duran Duran was never about any of that stuff. Their coolness is almost enough to be enough, but they've created a body of incredibly great pop songs as well. What this is, is a document of a great band, past their prime perhaps, but still in command.

Could I listen to any other shows from this series? That would almost certainly be pointless … I'm not sure I'd know the difference. But I'm happy with this one, both for the relic itself and what it signifies: a brave new world wherein hard-to-come-by music gets into the hands of those who want it most.

Review by Napoleon Newton