The Night Duran Duran & Anderson .Paak Channeled the Spirit of David Bowie
Musical serendipity happened by the hand of Ziggy Stardust on one fateful evening in Las Vegas
A mini-music festival took place at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas on Saturday July 30th, 2016. On one side of the building, 80s legends Duran Duran and disco pioneers Chic graced the Mandalay Bay Events Center stage. In the other corner, buzz-worthy Dr. Dre protégé Anderson .Paak was simultaneously rocking the House of Blues. For music lovers, this was an evening of tough decisions.
I quickly secured my Duran Duran tickets at will call, and then jetted over to House of Blues for Anderson .Paak. I’d be damned if I was going to have to choose between my favorite 80s group and the strongest up-and-coming hip-hop artist of the year.
In a word, .Paak and his band — the Free Nationals — completely shut it down, with every corner of the House of Blues spoken for by sweaty bodies. For a brand new artist without any real hit records, he played the room like the most seasoned veteran, as the young crowd treated his less than five-year-old catalog like it was already etched in stone. Gallivanting across the stage with the elasticity of the Pink Panther, his stage presence alone possessed the makings of a star, as the entranced crowd harmoniously finished his sentences when prompted. Like his recent BET Awards performance, .Paak alternated between caressing the microphone — sounding identical to his on-wax persona — and manning the drums, whilst singing and rapping on beat.
.Paak’s fleeting display of greatness came to a close after about 45 minutes, abruptly ending with a funky instrumental cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” While I wanted to stay for the encore, I couldn’t risk missing any more of Duran Duran’s set, having already traded Chic’s opening performance in the arena for .Paak’s headlining slot in the small room.
Moments later, after leaving the room of taste-making millennials and jetting across the hotel, I joined their parents at Mandalay Events Center for Duran Duran, just missing “Notorious” with Chic’s Nile Rodgers.
To my bewilderment, .Paak and Duran were somehow in sync, as Simon LeBon and company were also paying tribute to the Thin White Duke within minutes of each other. As I entered the arena, Duran Duran was mashing up “Planet Earth” with Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” lyrically linking the two interstellar songs. It was as if Ziggy Stardust himself was sending down an ultra light beam from above the clouds, pointing to both bands’ instruments and commanding “PLAY!” I must have been one of the few people inside the hotel musically obsessive enough to attend both shows and to witness this serendipitous, converging musical moment.
The crowd of hot moms and dads were more stoic for Duran Duran than the group in the previous room, taking a seat for 90s alternative hit “Ordinary World,” which always felt like a bit of a betrayal to their 80s catalogue. The same was once said for their cover of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “White Lines,” but in this context had people jumping out of their seats, with all hands in the air for Le Bon’s cry of “Higher, baby!”
Original DD keyboardist Nick Rhodes was notably absent, having to reportedly cut his time on the Paper Gods tour short due to a family emergency. “Nick’s okay. He had to go to the U.K. to handle some stuff,” said Le Bon. “Nick suggested we get MNDR to fill in with us,” a musician best known for her work with Mark Ronson, RAC and TOKiMONSTA.
Duran was seemingly having fun blending bits and pieces of their repertoire together, again mashing things up by sewing their modern hit “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise” together with 80s classic “New Moon on Monday,” this time linking things together with a celestial bodies theme.
The band left on a high note, playing the most notable selections from Decade, with Le Bon flamboyantly strutting across the stage like a catwalk for “Girls On Film.” The room again exploded with energy for “The Reflex,” just shy of having the original music video’s holographic waterfall cascade from the LED screen. They ended things on a somber note with “Save a Prayer,” as the song’s iconic, opening keys gave MNDR her trial-by-fire moment. She passed with flying colors.
As the stage went dark and the band exited, Patrik Nagel’s gorgeous art deco visage of Rio suddenly appeared on the screen, signaling an encore performance. “Yes!” I screamed, briefly losing my cool and admittedly appearing like a superfan. My excitement was not of surprise that they would perform their biggest hit, but that I didn’t miss it while attending .Paak’s show. The pulsating, pregnant arena shared this moment of bliss, as the ageless Simon Le Bon, John Taylor and Roger Taylor all but danced across the Rio Grande.
And somewhere beyond, Bowie applauded.
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