November 8, 2007
Duran Duran Is Still Big, Just the Stage Got Small
By JON PARELES
When a name-brand band settles in for a residency at a small Broadway theater — as Duran Duran is through next Tuesday at the Ethel Barrymore Theater the selling point is a chance to get closer to the musicians and the songs. On Tuesday night some fans took full advantage of their proximity, like the woman who repeatedly grabbed the singer Simon Le Bon’s leg whenever he walked too close to the edge of the stage.
But intimacy isn’t a big factor in Duran Duran’s songs. What made Duran Duran a multimillion-selling band in the 1980’s was how savvy it was about glamor, about allure from a distance or through a camera. The band’s keyboards and guitars sounded shiny and spotlighted as it drew on dance music, rock and funk, and its members turned themselves into pop pinups in perfect symbiosis with the ascendant MTV. Duran Duran’s major hits, like “Rio,” “Notorious” and “Girls on Film,” were fascinated by media images.
Superficiality is still Duran Duran’s home turf. Its Broadway production is a scaled-down arena show, with video screens, a horn section and a wall of nearly nonstop strobe lights; someone took care to write cheeky Playbill copy as well. (Under Standbys: “For Simon: Lindsay Lohan.”) Duran Duran’s new album is called “Red Carpet Massacre” (Epic), and as the band played the title song, paparazzi-style photographs flashed on the video screen overhead.
When the band played its new single, “Falling Down” — a ballad about a star on the downswing, wondering “Why do the cruel barbs fly?” — the accompanying video showed what looked like a clinic for fashion models, with nurses flaunting cleavage. Songs from the album flipped between deliberate 1980s revivals like the club-style electropop of “Tempted” and the guitar-strumming ballad “Box Full O’ Honey,” which wondered, “Are you laughing at me now?”
The audience, mostly women who looked (and sometimes squealed) like loyalists from the ’80s, applauded the new songs while waiting for the hits. And they arrived, but not before a history lesson. After intermission Duran Duran’s four founding members — Mr. Le Bon, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor — stood behind keyboards in black leather jackets, looking like Kraftwerk and playing a Kraftwerk song, “Showroom Dummies.” That started a miniset of Duran Duran songs and electro oldies like the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” paying tribute while flaunting Duran Duran’s pop skills, even in skeletal arrangements.
The full-band hits overshadowed Duran Duran’s midlife reflections. Duran Duran knows it isn’t as sleek as it was decades ago, and it played its songs as fond remembrances of youthful effrontery. Mr. Le Bon’s dance moves included some jokey Elvis Presley kung fu. But as the strobe lights flickered and the hooks percolated, the shallow joys of the band’s music were still glossy enough.
Concerts continue through Tuesday at Ethel Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200 or telecharge.com.
Courtesy NY Times