Skinny Tie and All, Duran Duran Returns

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April 13, 2005

Skinny Tie and All, Duran Duran Returns

You don't have to be a teenager to scream like one. That was clear when Duran Duran played the last show of its current tour on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Happy screeches from fans who clearly remembered the band from its 1980's heyday greeted the five members as they arrived onstage in the dark and stood side by side, fully confident that they'd be illuminated by camera flashes. They were.

It's a semi-reunion for Duran Duran, whose hitmaking five-man lineup ruptured in 1985 when its drummer, Roger Taylor, and its guitarist, Andy Taylor, left the band. The singer Simon LeBon, the keyboardist Nick Rhodes and the bassist John Taylor (none of the Taylors are related) kept making Duran Duran albums, with diminishing returns, until the two other Taylors returned to the band in 2003.

With a new semi-reunion album, "Astronaut" (Sony), that was released last year, Duran Duran is positioned to join the wave of 1980's nostalgia in current pop. Longtime fans showed up in 1980's fashions; so did Mr. LeBon, who started the set wearing a skinny tie, and Mr. Rhodes, who flaunted eye makeup. As he did in the 80's, Mr. LeBon preened happily, bounding across the stage, swinging his hips and soaking up the squeals.

The band was more fun, and more clever, as brash pop pinups in their 20's than in more recent incarnations. With its 1981 debut album, Duran Duran latched on to some of the best notions of 1970's glam-rock - its swagger, its disheveled elegance, its skeptical pleasure in image-mongering - while listening to the dance-punk-electro hybrids emerging from New York City at the time. By its second album, "Rio," Duran Duran was writing hits like "Rio" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" that put an oblique, sometimes apocalyptic spin on pop romance in the verses but kept the choruses clear and catchy, never disguising their pop intentions. The suave posing was always a little preposterous, but no less enjoyable for that.

Behind the enthusiastic, adenoidal bite of Mr. LeBon's voice - he always sounded more like a teenager than did his models, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry - the music took the steady-pulsing beat of electro and accessorized it with Andy Taylor's funk or rock guitar. (At Madison Square Garden, Duran Duran paid its respects to New York by performing "White Lines," the 1983 anti-cocaine rap by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel.) The latter-day Duran Duran has been more workmanlike and less extravagant in earnest songs like "What Happens Tomorrow," "Nice" and "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise."

While the fans applauded songs from "Astronaut," it was the oldies - "A View to a Kill," "Girls on Film," "The Reflex" - that kept the audience on its feet throughout the concert. Duran Duran didn't try to make them as slick as the recorded versions. While video screens showed the band as cartoon heroes between glimpses of women in lingerie, Duran Duran was just a five-man band (plus a female backup singer and, very occasionally, a saxophonist) socking away at the songs like troupers, getting sweaty and just about as silly as the songs deserved.

Courtesy The New York Times