More than a nostalgia act

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More than a nostalgia act
Duran Duran shows itself to be alive and well in its show at Staples Center.

Special to the Register

After the lights dimmed at Staples Center on Saturday night, the first thing Duran Duran fans heard was the taped sound of a heartbeat.

It was fitting, considering that this veteran British band's career has been resuscitated from its late-'90s doldrums, when singer Simon Le Bon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes still carried the torch but only diehard enthusiasts seemed to care.

Suddenly, synth-pop has become hip again, and newcomers like the Killers, Franz Ferdinand and Scissor Sisters are citing Duran Duran as a formative influence.

Bassist John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor rejoined to record last year's "Astronaut" - the group's first studio album in more than two decades. A tasty slice of dance/pop that doesn't seem the least bit dated, the tunes are atmospheric and alluring. The first single "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise" even hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.

Each member (dressed in sharp black designer clothes) arrived on the circular stage and stood for a few minutes in front, as if to proclaim, "Yes, we're still alive and well." Andy Taylor, absent from recent promotional duties for personal reasons, was also back in tow.

Le Bon, whose voice was richer than usual at the 2003 reunion gigs in Costa Mesa and Devore, had an equally strong range in L.A. this time around.

And he hit the high notes with ease (especially on the majestic hit ballad "Ordinary World," dedicated to anyone suffering a loss).

Duran Duran opened the sold-out, two-hour concert with an uplifting "Sunrise." The boisterous crowd immediately raised hands in the air and started a dancing frenzy. Signature song "Hungry Like the Wolf," dispatched early on, was bolstered by soaring harmonies.

Those who dismiss Duran Duran as frivolous new wave haven't seen the band live lately.

Andy Taylor provided razor sharp riffs at every turn ("Wild Boys" - driven by tribal drums, "Planet Earth" and "Careless Memories" were particularly menacing).

Rhodes gave the classic tunes' keyboard textures a fresh spin, while John Taylor got the funk out and had a blast (he led the seamless "Notorious" segue into Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" and later, a snatch of Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in Heart" during a feverish take on Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines").

In addition to a handful of strong "Astronaut" selections, there were a few surprises amid the 22-song set – namely a soulful rock revamp of "I Don't Want Your Love," in which Le Bon cavorted around with backup singer Anna Ross – and instrumental "Tiger Tiger" (from 1983's "Seven and the Ragged Tiger"), which featured smoky sax work by Andy Hamilton. A mesmerizing "The Chauffeur" had projected soft-core porn images from the music video and was sung by Le Bon in a policeman's cap. It went down a storm.

John Taylor was thankful for the support. Before the encores, he exclaimed, "We love this city and couldn't have done it without you!"

By the time a freewheeling "Rio" capped the evening off, the members of Duran Duran proved that they've retained the magic of old.

Courtesy Orange County Register