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A classic case of conflict:
Duran Duran looked and sounded great-- but where was the full orchestrated sound?

Jim Abbott | Sentinel Pop Music Critic

Duran Duran
Jul 17, 2005

Duran Duran Orchestrated

As a rock show, Duran Duran's collaboration with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra on Monday offered something rare in the age of computer-generated light shows and recorded vocal tracks:

The fleeting notion that, at any moment, something might actually go wrong.

It didn't -- and the sold-out show at the Chapin Auditorium at the Orange County Convention Center, was an interesting marriage of high culture and old-school MTV.

Not that there weren't a few bumps along the way.

Duran Duran, featuring the original lineup of singer Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and the rhythm section of Andy Taylor, John Taylor and Roger Taylor, had to keep the volume to a reasonable level to blend with the armada of strings and horns.

When the band performed songs such as "New Religion" without the orchestra, it didn't seem loud enough. The imposing power of amplified guitars and keyboards is part of the experience, and it's unlikely that many ears were ringing on Tuesday morning.

The trade-off was that the turned-down approach yielded a more subtle sound mix than the band could have delivered in an arena.

LeBon's vocals, for instance, were always comfortably above the instruments. He responded by delivering the material with strong, energetic style.

Speaking of style, it should be added that all the band members are still very cute, especially for guys in their 40s. LeBon looked trim and fit in his sharply tailored black and white suit and Rhodes made an '80s fashion statement with his sculpted hair-do and glittery black pants.

Lest anyone forget it was a Duran Duran show, the band bookended the orchestral portion of the evening with sets that undeniably lifted the energy level. Signature songs such as "Union of the Snake" and "Wild Boys" were augmented by colorful, abstract images on a half dozen narrow, vertical video screens suspended behind the band.

There were moments when the combination worked. When the French horns and trombones announced the chorus of "Ordinary World," a song LeBon dedicated to the victims of the London bombings, it was majestic.

Unfortunately, the horns were the only part of the orchestra that could be heard. Nor were there the kinds of expressive dynamic shifts that could have conveyed the ensemble's full creative power.

Because of that, some the orchestral ballads started to sound the same after a while. Still, the crescendo in the closing "Rio" was a roaring finale.

It wasn't classical, but it was a gas.

The orchestra wasn't allowed to do much to enhance the sound behind the band's show.

By Scott Warfield | Special to the Sentinel
Posted July 20, 2005

For decades, American orchestras have attempted to broaden their audiences and increase revenues through joint efforts with popular artists, ranging from legendary jazz figures to pop singers and even rock bands. The common factor in those programs is that the venue is invariably the orchestra's home hall, and the program is usually built around an orchestral sound flavored by the guest performer.

On Monday evening, the tables were turned as the Orlando Philharmonic traveled to the Orange County Convention Center's Chapin Auditorium to serve as the back-up ensemble for the '80s supergroup Duran Duran. The evening -- at least from the standpoint of anyone interested in the orchestra -- was probably less of a success than one might have hoped.

There is something to be said for the "home field advantage," and in this case the Philharmonic was clearly the visiting team, beginning with the seating arrangements. The stage was dominated by the setup for Duran Duran, as well as plenty of equipment for lighting effects, while the Philharmonic was relegated to the back of the stage, where it waited silently in the dark through the band's first four numbers.

When the lights went up to reveal the vague shapes of the orchestra's musicians through a scrim, their sound matched those indistinct outlines. There was nothing acoustic in the orchestra's heavily processed sound, which often disappeared behind Duran Duran's wall of sound.

As might be expected, the brass instruments were heard more frequently, while the woodwinds were virtually inaudible. Between them, the strings had an unearthly sound -- clearly because of the extreme amplification -- made even moreso by characterless lines that seldom did more than sustain barely audible chords behind the band. Taken as a whole, the orchestra resembled the sound of a synthesizer, which actually suited Duran Duran's techno pop sound fairly well, when one could hear the orchestra.

Throughout the evening, the Philharmonic provided some brief introductions and even two instrumental numbers, all played capably under guest conductor Frank McNamara. None of these really seemed to matter, however. In fact, lead singer Simon LeBon's "Let's get the party started," as the band launched into the first of the final five songs without the orchestra, suggests the orchestra added little to the evening. From "Planet Earth" to the end, both the volume and energy levels in the hall rose noticeably.

For an orchestra looking to drum up new business for its regular concert series, ventures like this unusual collaboration might seem a golden opportunity. Unfortunately, the crowd who ignored the Philharmonic's display table in the lobby as they pushed past to snap up $45 Duran Duran T-shirts suggests otherwise.

If only the orchestra's regular patrons were as excited about their orchestra as those nostalgic fans were about Duran Duran, the Philharmonic might spare its musicians from jobs like this concert.

Courtesy the Orlando Sentinel