'80s may be over, but Duran is not Band is stylish and tight – if not flawless

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'80s may be over, but Duran is not
Band is stylish and tight - if not flawless
Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Warner Theatre on Sunday


Midway through the opening "Friends of Mine," singer Simon LeBon tipped toward the front row and, with eyebrows arched and a knowing grin, spat the lyric, "It's time that you were told, I think you're growing old."

That's true of us all - with the possible exception of Duran Duran.

The most famous band of the '80s is in the midst of a well-plotted comeback in its original lineup - playing to deliberately intimate crowds to stoke ticket demand, scooping up Lifetime Achievement awards from MTV and Britain's influential Q Magazine, unveiling the crisp "Greatest" DVD of its revolutionary videos - and doing it all while remaining impeccably stylish and handsome.

The band's stop at the 1,800-seat Warner Theatre in D.C. on Sunday was the second of a three-week tour of small theaters and clubs. It, like the others, sold out within minutes, causing hordes of disappointed fans to mope on the sidewalk in front of the theater, hoping for a last-minute ticket release. Those who didn't get in needn't fret too much. Duran plans to hit the amphitheater circuit next summer following the release of a new album in the spring.

What they missed was a quartet of grossly underrated musicians - particularly bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor, though keyboardist Nick Rhodes and guitarist Andy Taylor eagerly delved into busy arrangements - and the overdramatic charm of the still-blond and hip-swiveling LeBon.

But as tight as the band sounded throughout most of the nearly two-hour show, the gig didn't run flawlessly. After the third song, "Planet Earth," buoyed by Roger Taylor's lush drum fills and an audience singalong of the "ba-ba-ba" chorus, LeBon announced that technical problems were preventing the band from playing properly. Noting that the audience "deserved better," he and the boys exited the stage for about 10 minutes while the glitches were examined.

Returning for "Come Undone" and the new "What Happens Tomorrow," Duran proved that while money might have been part of the motivating factor for this reunion, the band still retains an obvious joy toward its music. John Taylor, chiseled and sock-less in a black suit, continually flashed his Cheshire Cat grin toward his bandmates, particularly during a wobbly "Is There Something I Should Know," which was sadly soured by LeBon's malfunctioning harmonica. But Duran shrugged off the blunders and blazed through the moody tenseness of "Waiting For the Nightboat," during which a slim LeBon donned a black overcoat and flashed a massive spotlight across the crowd.

Interestingly, for a band that defined excess in the '80s, Duran's current stage show - like the one unveiled for a few West Coast dates this summer - is sparse. No video screens, no props and certainly no faux waterfalls a la "The Reflex" video. Just some flashing lights and a cadre of songs that ranged from the dirty funk of "Notorious," which briefly edged into Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," to the gorgeous, ethereal ballad, "Ordinary World," dedicated to the late Robert Palmer, singer in the Duran splinter group, The Power Station.

What was particularly gratifying to longtime fans of the band - devoted to the point of never sitting for a second during the show - was Duran's decision to throw in plenty of non-hit album cuts. "New Religion," with its delicious bass line and rapid lyrical conversation between the ego (handled by a typically nasal LeBon) and the alter ego (chimed in by John and Andy Taylor) tested the memories of true Durannies, while "Careless Memories" sparked plenty of its own with Rhodes' knock-knock synth intro and Andy Taylor's searing guitar.

Duran Duran didn't forget too many of its 15 Top 40 hits, either, though a little "New Moon on Monday" or "Union of the Snake" would have been appreciated. Instead, the band's mostly thirtysomething-year-old fans raised their lighters and swayed to "Save A Prayer," bounced along with John Taylor to the annoyingly repetitive "Wild Boys," which, to its credit, sounded unusually brawny this night, and pumped their fists to the lascivious groove of the show-ending "Girls on Film."

No matter what you thought of the band in its heyday, realize this: The '80s are over, but the band carries on to well-deserved ovations. Plan on seeing plenty of these pioneers of New Wave British pop in the coming months. It's only just begun.