At the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto on Monday
Is it now yet?
Like history and Jennifer Aniston movies, Duran Duran repeated itself at the Phoenix, where Gen X itches were scratched with glee. This influential British band in its second act sounded fresh and uplifted the crowd easily with its recallable glossy sounds. But if its danceable signatures on new songs and old were comparable, the aloof videogenic attitude of the 1980s has softened, replaced with a more lived-in charisma. No longer selling trainloads of records but still preoccupied with a girl named Rio, the modern-century Duran Duran is hip again for the very first time.
A synthesized sweep ushered the band to the darkened stage, its membership from its glory days mostly intact, with only guitarist Andy Taylor missing (since 2006). Still suave-enough singer Simon Le Bon subtly jiggled the fingers of his upturned hands, coolly encouraging his fanatics to give it up just a little bit more.
“Like some New Romantics looking for the TV sound,” he crooned in his well-preserved, high-sheen tenor. The self-referential, post-disco hit Planet Earth was followed by another MTV-golden-era classic, Hungry Like the Wolf. And when the bearded Le Bon sang the line “I smell like I sound, lost and found,” one could almost make out a waft of Drakkar cologne.
After the original members reunited in 2001, Duran Duran released a pair of albums to modest success, while still drawing well on the road. The band chased styles, employing star music producers Nile Rodgers (for 2004’s Astronaut) and Timbaland (for 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre) in an allowable bid for relevancy. A year ago, though, the red-hot Mark Ronson was brought on-board to helm All You Need is Now, at once an embrace of the past and a confident statement about the present.
At the Phoenix show – part of an intimate club tour, playing to crowd sizes far smaller than the band needs to – the verses of new album’s title song grooved to a chunky garage-funk rhythm and a monstrous, rubbing synthesizer noise. The releasing chorus swung smoothly and sparkled cleanly to a much more melodic refrain: “Stay, with the music, let it play a little longer/ we don’t need anybody, all you need is now.” It was the successful concert’s best expression.
After that, it was a mix of memories (including the skittering, stuttering disco-R&B of Notorious) and new material that never failed outright but was sometimes just so-so, such as the tepid ballad Leave a Light On.
The main set closed with the excitable Rio, complete with its tenor-sax solo. The band came back for The Reflex and the campy, catchy Girls on Film, which popped in a bit of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face to show us what decade these cool customers live in.
After bassist John Taylor had introduced The Reflex as the “song that changed our lives,” Le Bon remarked to a girlie in front that she hadn't yet been born when that song and video first broke. The lights have indeed been left on for the return of Duran Duran. “As long as you keep coming back,” offered Taylor, as the band walked off, “we’ll keep coming back.” This was not a threat, but a contract offered (and seemingly accepted) in good faith.
The members of Duran Duran are not the cocky New Romantics they once were, but they still operate with a composed assurance. They do what they do, paying no mind to the bully team of nostalgia and irony. Now their time has finally come back to them, just like the double-named, double-lifed former hit-makers knew it would.
Duran Duran plays in Montreal on Tuesday.
What they played
Hungry Like the Wolf
All You Need Is Now
Safe (In The Heat of the Moment)
Leave a Light On
Friends of Mine
Blame the Machines
Reach Up For the Sunrise
Girls on Film (with Poker Face)
Courtesy Globe + Mail