Duran Duran still works hard for the money

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Duran Duran still works hard for the money
December 15, 2007

They didn’t exactly burst onto the stage like the days of old. The lights went down and five middle-aged guys strolled on stage, just like any bar band. Bassist John Taylor and singer Simon Le Bon even barked a quick “check, check” into their microphones.

Then they started playing the new album, “Red Carpet Massacre,” in order, starting with the brooding “The Valley,” then the title track, in which Le Bon sneers about the “death stalk paparazzi” with “their knives out.” You think it’s another star’s boring criticism of our celebrity culture, but Le Bon eventually adds, “But baby, we know that you love it.” And you know he did, too, once upon a time.

Duran Duran, however, were not stalked by paparazzi Friday night, before or after their headlining performance at the annual Miracle on State Street concert sponsored by WTMX-FM (101.9) at the Chicago Theatre. Those days are long gone. With them, you’d be forgiven for thinking that their musical relevance had also slipped away. But you might be surprised.

Their workmanlike concert Friday night showed off a band clearly glad to have a vast stable of hits to fall back on, but also one still at work, still creating, still trying — sometimes desperately, sometimes valiantly — to do something relevant.

The first three songs from “Massacre,” though considerably bleaker in tone than we’re used to from “she dances on the sand” Duran Duran, still sounded like the same band. And thank heavens they’re a proper band again. We didn’t realize how much we missed John Taylor’s heavy-but-nimble bass playing — not to mention his mugging and how much he’s obviously having a blast on stage — until the band splintered apart years ago and reunited last year. If fans were not quite sure what to make of a snaky new song like “Nite Runner,” Taylor’s natural ebullience probably convinced more than a few.

We knew the time machine had started, though, when the sax player came out. Then we got “Notorious,” “Planet Earth” and eventually the full run of “Rio,” “The Reflex,” even “A View to a Kill.” Although in an interview before the concert Taylor talked about tweaking the arrangements of the old hits, they all sounded exactly as they always have. The one catalog single that seemed truly reborn was a recent one, “(Reach Up for The) Sunrise,” which chugged furiously driven by grinding riffs from Taylor and replacement guitarist Dominic Brown.

Le Bon danced with seemingly greater effort, but underneath his increasingly Rod Stewartesque visage is still that voice. He sounds fantastic, even if the high lines at the end of “Ordinary World” are now sung in a cautious falsetto. He dedicated that song to anyone missing someone this holiday season (awwww), and easily crooned his way through the new ballad, “Falling Down,” co-written with Justin Timberlake.

By the end of the hour-plus set, which unfortunately closed with the ever-ludicrous “Wild Boys” (which sounded as if it had been transposed down a key or three for Le Bon), these five blokes had worked hard for their money. There was no autopilot in this show, and that’s likely why the sold-out crowd never sat down.

Courtesy Chicago Sun-Times