Duran Duran gracefully picks up where it left off

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Duran Duran gracefully picks up where it left off
- Aidin Vaziri, Chronicle Pop Music Critic
Friday, March 4, 2005

When the five original members of Duran Duran got back together a few years ago, no one could have predicted a reception like this. Although they never had a problem filling their roles as hard-living pop stars, people are now looking at them as certifiable heroes.

Their early years inspire awe: They made videos on the beaches of Sri Lanka, picked their girlfriends out of modeling agency catalogs, hung out with Andy Warhol, shook hands with Princess Di, released an LP called "Seven & the Ragged Tiger," harmonized with Bono and Sting at Band Aid, capsized yachts, crashed motorcycles and wore more makeup than Joan Collins. Their three studio albums not only splashed out the blueprint for all the pop music that followed in the '80s but still serve as reference material for swarms of young bands. Without them, there would be no Strokes, no Killers, no Interpol, and, well, the world would certainly have been a poorer place without Kajagoogoo.

All this might not do much to help the late-blooming sales of last year's comeback album, "Astronaut," but on Wednesday it drew a near-capacity crowd to the HP Pavilion in San Jose a good 20 years after Duran Duran's last certifiable chart hit together. And while the band wants to make it clear that it has traded cocaine for carrot juice -- arriving in matching black suits instead of pirate shirts and fingerless gloves, avoiding cheekbone shots on the enormous video screens behind the stage, leaving the lipstick at home -- the music remains as positively, unapologetically loopy as ever.

Opening tentatively with "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise," the slash 'n' burn first single from the latest album, they wasted no time getting to the good stuff -- "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Union of the Snake," "Tiger Tiger" and a whole bunch of other songs that may not mention exotic animals in the title but sound chaotically inspired nonetheless, propelled by a blinding rush of disco, glam and synth-pop.

Crucially, Duran Duran look and sound amazing. In contrast to most bands, which grit their teeth and do these reunion tours as a way of squaring things with the IRS, you get the feeling that singer Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor have reunited because they actually enjoy doing this for a living.

Yes, the new tracks sound as if they need a shot of caffeine, but the band charges through the classic material with obvious lust. LeBon turns "Save a Prayer," an intimate song looking back on a one-night stand, into a massive audience sing-along. He drives the scratchy funk of "Notorious" into a car- crash chorus of "We Are Family," which he punctuates with improvised karate moves. And, best of all, he sings "The Chauffeur" dressed as a chauffeur. The later it gets, the bigger his smile grows.

By the time the band barrels into a spasmodic encore of "White Lines," "Girls On Film" and "Rio," leaving the crowd breathlessly reaching for the stage, it becomes obvious Duran Duran shouldn't worry so much about getting respect when it's already getting worshiped.

Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle