The sun was setting as the lights dimmed at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, NJ, Thursday night, as the members of Duran Duran appeared in silhouette on a fog-filled stage. Behind them, the opening lines of the title track from their latest album, “Paper Gods”, were visualized in a sort of homage to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” A single spotlight pulled lead singer, Simon le Bon, out of the darkness as thousands of fans screamed and cheered.
“Bow to the paper gods, In a world that is paper-thin. The fools in town, Are ruling now.”
While the lyric featured a cynical look at society’s vapid underbelly, the stunning visuals and thumping bassline refused to let anyone fall too far into dour contemplation. Duran Duran may have dipped into the realm of political commentary a few times over the years, but they have always been their best when they have the crowd on their feet dancing.
This stop on the band’s tour took on a particularly festive feel with revelers partying on the lawn while the audience beneath the pavilion danced under lights and a cloud of confetti. The evening started with a short DJ set from Los Angeles native, TOKiMONSTA, as the crowd slowly filled the lawn. By the time Nile Rodgers and Chic took the stage around 7:45, everyone was prepped for a party, and a party was exactly what they got.
A Match Made in Musical History
The pairing of Chic with Duran Duran has made for one of the most exuberant tours in years. Many concertgoers may have entered the venue with little to no recognition of Rodgers and his immense catalog, but they left with a new understanding of the breadth of his impact on decades of music. Rodgers started his career with Chic; the highly influential disco hit machine in the 70’s. The sound he and co-founder, the late Bernard Edwards, created has left ripples across almost every genre of music. Rodgers didn’t stop when Chic broke apart in the early 80’s. He went on to produce hit after hit for various artists, including Madonna and David Bowie.
Rodgers stood joyously center stage as he and the current version of Chic deftly leapt from one chart topper to the next. Camden proved to be the perfect venue for the funky and festive set. The audience was on its feet from the opening refrains of, “Dance, Dance, Dance”, and stayed there until the band finished with the song that spawned a million samples, “Good Times”. Rodgers hit many milestones throughout the set including the Sister Sledge hit he co-wrote with Edwards, “We Are Family” and an ultra cool version of the Bowie track, “Let’s Dance.”
The crowd on the lawn was no doubt thankful for the breeze coming off of the Delaware as they sat down to rest between acts. The venue, which has changed names several times over the years, has always been a bit unique. The city of Camden has had more than its share of problems in a state that has had a bit of an identity issue. Northern New Jersey always seems to search across the Hudson, while Southern New Jersey looks to cross the Delaware.
Where are We Again?
The traditional city shoutout often perplexes even the most seasoned touring acts when they take the stage in Camden. The Philadelphia skyline is the most prominent fixture at the venue, but the address is still New Jersey. Not knowing what to do, most artists pick one and stick to it for the show. Le Bon took a different tack by addressing the issue head-on after the fourth song in the set:
“Good evening New Jersey! Or is it Philadelphia?” He went on to lead a cheering session as residents gleefully voted for each location. He may have already won the audience over with dynamic performances of the hits, “Wild Boys”, “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “A View to a Kill”, but his lighthearted acknowledgment of the complexities of the area would have won him the keys to both cities if only he’d asked.
The band went on to strike the perfect balance of new songs and the hits that have made Duran Duran’s career a long and successful one. Rodgers joined them on stage for two of the songs he produced for them, the 1986 song, “Notorious” and last year’s buoyant single, “Pressure Off”. There were a few moments of reflection, including a tribute to David Bowie with a performance of “Space Oddity”, but most of the evening felt like the best party the crowd had ever attended.
Bassist John Taylor took a moment to thank the audience for their support over the years. He mentioned playing the old Spectrum, Mann Music Center, LiveAid at RFK and other venues over the years. It might have been Philly-centric, but it was so sincere, even the most loyal of New Jerseyans seemed to be charmed by his words. As the audience filtered out of the venue, there was little doubt this band from the British Isles would always have a home in both New Jersey and Philadelphia.