Duran Duran brings vintage energy to tour

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Duran Duran brings vintage energy to tour

Monday, April 11, 2005

FAIRFAX Strobe lights snapped, and fans nearly broke eardrums with their screams. It could have been 1984 for Duran Duran as the fivesome stood at the lip of the stage in the blinking darkness. But 20 years have passed since the band's last foray, and finally, these gracefully aging men are swimming in long-deserved respect.

What makes this return of Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes and the three unrelated Taylors -- John, Roger and Andy -- different from other "reunions" on the road right now was evident from the moment they locked into the crisp groove of "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise" and didn't end until two sweaty hours later in the giddy swirl of "Rio."

Trading looks, grins and backslaps, the band obviously is in this for more than a paycheck. They're a team who bothered to release an album of strong new material ("Astronaut") rather than lazily dishing out their plethora of hits. And their presence today is one of sturdy survivors grateful for another spin on the carousel rather than the bleary-eyed decadence that colored their mega-success in the'80s.

Much like The Beatles (and indeed, Duran was commonly referred to as the "Fab Five" in homage), the band members' personalities are as important to their success as their underrated musicianship. How refreshing to see those characteristics still intact at Friday's sold-out Patriot Center show, or, for that matter, to watch a band -- still the most elegantly dressed musicians in pop -- with genuine chemistry.

John Taylor, the lanky bassist with a jaw line that could shred thick glass, remains the favorite judging by the shrieks. But his nimble fingering during "Notorious," which slyly dipped into Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," and his dense anchoring of "Planet Earth" proved his often-unsung prowess. Coupled with the drumming of Roger Taylor, Duran's quiet rhythm machine, John funked up even the still-pedestrian "A View To a Kill."

It wasn't until midway through the concert that keyboardist Nick Rhodes, in all his pouty stoicism, garnered much attention. Standing behind his mission-control setup under a circle of white lights, the platinum-haired Rhodes tiptoed into "Tiger Tiger," the instrumental from the original lineup's last studio album, "Seven and the Ragged Tiger," before neatly segueing into longtime fan fave "The Chauffeur."

That one also brought out the drama school background in singer Simon LeBon, a man who, along with Bono, could make a fine living offering classes in How To Be a Frontman. Clad in a black tux jacket and driver's cap, LeBon emerged from the shadows to croon the moody song and play the recorder. But most impressive about LeBon is that he sings better now than he did 20 years ago (one listen to "Arena" should confirm that). He also looks the healthiest, somewhat like a less thuggish Russell Crowe or, perhaps, the father of "The O.C."'s Benjamin McKenzie.

But even though the rough rock recast of "I Don't Want Your Love" didn't really work, LeBon growled through several octaves, while his ferociously spat lyrics during "Careless Memories" personified the song's anger. His stage presence is intoxicating, with kooky dance moves -- all hip twists and heel slides -- that are wholly original and actually work for him. And besides, who can't admire a guy who exerts so much energy that his pink shirt hung blotched in sweat within moments?

LeBon also deserves kudos for his tender read of one of Duran's loveliest songs, "Ordinary World," dedicated to "an absent friend." Written in 1993during one of the band's fractured periods, the melancholy ballad resonates more deeply with age and, on this night, thoroughly mesmerized.

Along with the watery sensuality of "Come Undone," the midtempo chug of new single "What Happens Tomorrow" and cell phone-and-lighter-waving sing-along "Save a Prayer," Duran frequently suffused its set with cranked-up rock. Most of the time, guitarist Andy Taylor, cigarette dangling from his mouth and black shades never revealing his eyes, provided that grittier edge, even if it meant overpowering LeBon's vocals, as happened during a muddled "Astronaut." But the occasional speed bump was easily forgiven by the time the band ripped into its slamming version of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines" and the seductive funk of "Girls on Film."

The lingering effect of Duran Duran's influence on pop music is a song away on the radio. But now, along with its own newly minted hits, that longevity also comes in the form of The Killers, Franz Ferdinand and Scissor Sisters, bands that unabashedly claim Duran as an inspiration.

Those kids might be riding the charts now, but let's just see where they are in 20 years.

Courtesy Times Dispatch