Even better than the real thing - Duran Duran and Joanne Joanne live
Updated: Jul 27
I was always told that you don't want a fake, you always want the real thing. I never wanted the fake designer labels - my father was mahoosively against market stalls and fakes, whereas my mother just wanted a bargain and wasn't that bothered if it was real. For me, if I was going to bother, I wanted the quality goods.
Same goes for food. Apologies to my vegan friends, but a Cauliflower Steak is NOT a steak. It's not even close. And even the nicest plant based burger is not as nice as a good old fashioned beef burger, no matter what we tell ourselves. It may be healthier, better for the environment and cheaper, but it ain't better....and actually, outrageously, often it's not even cheaper...
And in music this has always stood as a good rule too. I like Oasis lots, but ultimately, give me Revolver, Rubber Soul or Abbey Road any day.
But tribute bands are an odd one. Some are rubbish. I love The Smiths and drunkenly shouted my dismay when seeing an early version of These Charming Men, a Smiths tribute band back in the Venue in New Cross in the 90s. Whereas, The Still Ills, another Smiths covers band were just fabulous, and so dedicated that they split up on the 10th anniversary of The Smiths actually splitting up in 1997, their final gig almost making up for missing The Smiths' final show. They were real fans.
The Australian Pink Floyd are in many ways better than the real thing (sacrilege I know) - but they have three singers, one playing Syd, one recreating David and one to be Roger (though it must be hard being that fucking grumpy each night). Whereas the real thing just has Dave, good as he may be.
Some tribute bands are actually bands featuring original members. Peter Hook & The Light are in reality the best Joy Division and New Order tribute band you will ever see. Hooky, as a member of both bands, may not be the best singer, but there is some authenticity to the shows, and a genuine passion for the songs. He is keeping their memory alive, like some gatekeeper, evangelist and belligerent campaigner, kicking against his old band mates with a musical fuck you. He is fabulous live. Similarly, EXTC includes XTC's drummer Terry, while Nick Mason is touring early Pink Floyd as Saucerful Of Secrets with Gary Kemp and Guy Pratt- both bands recreating a live experience no longer available to fans, with this genuine element of authenticity - an original member!
So, at the beginning of this month, I had the weird experience of seeing the real thing and the tribute act a few days apart. On Sunday 10th July, my friend Lozzer finally was able to take me for my 50th birthday present - Duran Duran live in Hyde Park - us and some 30,000 fans reliving the 80s. It had been rearranged twice due to the pandemic, but we were finally there! A few days later, we traipsed over to The Lexington to see Joanne Joanne (the all-female Duran Duran tribute band), coming in from a sunny Thursday on the avenue to join 200 other committed New Romantic era Durannies (or should that be Joannies?).
Duran Duran - four out of five original members in place and still making new albums, are on ridiculously good form. I look down at my pale white legs and beer belly and look up at the beauty that is John Taylor and wonder where I went wrong...he's 10 years older, but looks 20 years younger than me. Then again, he was better looking in the first place and no amount of gym going or abstinence is going to help me address that. His real name is Nigel though....I'll always have that over him!
Duran play a hit strewn set, but fair play to them, there are new songs and they are good - especially Invisible, from their latest album, Future Past. On record, the guitar is played by Graham Coxon from Blur - they continue to innovate and mix things up with collaborations with younger / unexpected artists. And they don't just stick to the hits, playing Friends Of Mine and Hold Back The Rain, album tracks from their first two albums.
Notorious with Nile Rodgers is sublime and funky all at once. And Ordinary World is genuinely fabulous. It's not all great - please, Please, PLEASE stop playing White Lines - middle aged white men covering 80s rap legends is just tragic. That said, their mix of Girls On Film and Calvin Harris' Acceptable In The 80s works surprisingly well. It took a while, but overall a wonderful 50th birthday present (thank you Lozzer!). But, but, but....was it as good as Joanne Joanne?
Joanne Joanne only play songs off the first two Duran Duran albums (plus a couple of tracks from the Seven & The Ragged Tiger era, but that's it). And no Rio. So they have an advantage over DD, as this is my childhood - these first two albums were essential listening in my formative years.
Joanne Joanne's singer is Jo from the marvellous Desperate Journalist (see Desperate Journalist - Lafayette, London, 19th February 2022). Tonight she's taking a break from the day job, and has adopted the moniker Simone La Belle. Drummer Mel is our carpenter who built our fantastic vinyl shelves (thanks Mel!) and was previously the fabulous drummer from Sidi Bou Said. Keyboard player Lolo Wood does a great job recreating Mr Rhodes' vibe, while Jo Gate-Eastly nails John Taylor's slick bass lines.
Photo courtesy of the marvellous Vincent Sorel
But the real star is Charley Stone - she's a great guitarist, but also the band's narrator / chronicler. Between songs, she narrates the band's back story, over 42 years, creating an alternative universe where you'd believe they are the real thing, not Le Bon et al. At one point she even tells us that bands like theirs often find they have tribute acts recreating their sound - there's even a bunch of blokes playing their material in parks right now...she is hilarious and the audience (and band) are captivated as she regales us with reimagined anecdotes and stories.
Photo courtesy of the marvellous Vincent Sorel
The music is amazing and I never stop singing from the moment they come on. Planet Earth, Is There Something I Should Know?, Hold Back The Rain, The Chauffeur are brilliant...and their version of New Religion is truly special. B-side Late Bar sets the encore ablaze. Jo's voice is better than Le Bon's....controversial but true.
Girls On Film brings the evening to an end, and I am hoarse, sweaty and elated. And we have an answer to the question (rather that just leaving you answered with a question mark)...Joanne Joanne win by a knockout.
If just for being more fun, more dedicated to what made Duran so brilliant - those two original albums were all killer, no filler, and whilst Duran's latter stuff has its moments, it's not all great, is it? They'd do well to go out and play their debut and Rio in their entirety. I bet they'd make an amazing new album afterwards...
We stay for one more beer, acquire a t-shirt and CD of their New Religion cover, and then saunter out and down the path, faces everywhere pulling grins...