Still fun remembering the 80s with Duran Duran

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Still fun remembering the 80s with Duran Duran

By Jim Harrington, CONTRIBUTOR

DURAN Duran does not make timeless music. That, more than anything else, is the key to the group's continued success.

The band is forever linked to the 1980s, the decade in which all of its memorable albums and nearly all of its great songs were released.

But unlike many other bands that peaked during the same period, Duran Duran seems to symbolize everything that was good about the decade while ducking all the negative imagery (leg warmers, big hair, wine coolers, etc.).

All it takes is a few notes from "Girls on Film," "The Reflex" or "Wild Boys" to send fans careening down Memory Lane. Most listeners don't hear these songs in the present. They hear them as played on the tape decks of their first cars or at their high school proms. Even new songs from band's latest CD, 2004's "Astronaut," somehow manage to conjure up a similar sense of time and place.

On Wednesday, the reunited Fab Five — bassist John Taylor, vocalist Simon LeBon, guitarist Andy Taylor, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor — provided nearly 9,000 fans with a delightful nostalgia trip at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.

Having regrouped in 2003 to play a series of live performances that marked the first time this lineup had played together since 1985's Live Aid, Duran Duran is now moving along the comeback trial like the previous 20 years never happened.

The band sounded as strong as it did back when it ruled MTV and delivered two hours' worth of inspired takes on old favorites and mostly winning versions   of songs from the new album.

The show started with the sound of a steady heartbeat, while the pulses of thousands of fans began to quicken and the five musicians walked out and simply stood in near darkness at the edge of the stage. Then, one by one, the players assumed their positions, leaving only LeBon standing in front.

The music began with the new anthem "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise," a track that stands tall next to any in the Duran Duran catalog, as the quintet went from 0 to 60 in just over three minutes.

The good times kept right on rolling along as the band reached back to 1982's "Rio" for a sexy "Hungry Like the Wolf."

The group stayed in "Rio" for a clubby version of "Hold Back the Rain" that featured Andy Taylor doing his best Keith Richards impersonation.

Not to be outdone, LeBon filled the ending of "Union of the Snake" from 1983's "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" with Mick Jagger-style "woo-hoos" that seemed straight off the Rolling Stones' "Miss You."

Lest we forget, Duran Duran is on tour to make lots of money, and those $45 pop-up programs being sold at the souvenir booths simply aren't enough. The band wasn't shy about pimping the new album.

"If it's not in your record collection," LeBon instructed the audience, "go get it."

The "Astronaut" tracks, including the title song "Chains" and "What Happens Tomorrow," landed safely with fans. Not really what folks had come to hear, the new tunes certainly didn't detract from the experience.

Although mostly a high-energy   evening, Duran Duran did some of its best work of the night with the slower numbers. "Save a Prayer" and "Come Undone," as expected, were true slow-dance, make-out moments. LeBon sounded particularly strong on these ballads as he wooed as convincingly as in the days when his picture was tacked up on walls in the bedrooms of teenage girls (and some teenage boys) around the globe.

If LeBon's romantic vocals are the heart of Duran Duran, then Rhodes' chameleon-like keyboard work is the backbone. Rhodes never appears to be working very hard, but he definitely is at the core of every song. He created appropriately spacey Pink Floyd-style sounds with "Planet Earth," lent a sense of swagger to "The Chauffeur" and fueled the spinning overhead disco ball on "Notorious."

With   the heart and backbone already assigned, that left John Taylor with the end, both literally and figuratively. The bassist produced some wonderfully rump-shaking leads that helped bring the show to a triumphant close during a three-song encore of "White Lines," "Girls on Film" and "Rio."

It wasn't timeless music. It was timely music. And, for one evening, it didn't feel like that particular time was that long ago.

 Courtesy Inside Bay Area