Duran Duran Rousing as Ever at the Mayan with Help from Gerard Way, Kelis, Beth Ditto and More

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Duran Duran rousing as ever at the Mayan with help from Gerard Way, Kelis, Beth Ditto and more
By George A. Paul

After three decades together, Duran Duran still causes hysteria. On Wednesday night, it happened at the Mayan Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, where the influential synth-pop group performed a special show in conjunction with the American Express concert series Unstaged. Once doors opened, anxious fans waiting at the front of the line since morning aggressively pushed each other to get inside and secure a prime viewing spot.

The live webcast was directed by filmmaker David Lynch, who added various images to the online visual presentation. Before the sold-out, 100-minute performance began, he encouraged people to dance beside a funhouse mirror specifically geared for the cyberspace audience — but asked them not to hog the spotlight.

Duran Duran put out the physical, expanded CD version of its latest studio effort All You Need Is Now on Tuesday — it came out digitally in December — so this L.A. gig, one of two nearby small-venue appearances (the other is April 14 at the Fox Theater in Pomona) before the band’s Coachella debut on April 17, also served as an album release party.

Among the British band’s strongest collections since their early ’80s heyday, it was produced by Mark Ronson (known for his own soul-deep albums plus work with Amy Winehouse, Adele and Kaiser Chiefs) and finds R&B singer Kelis and Ana Matronic from Scissor Sisters contributing vocals. Owen Pallett, aka Final Fantasy, handles some string arrangements.

Ronson envisioned All You Need Is Now as the imaginary follow up to Duran Duran’s 1982 multiplatinum classic Rio, encouraging the veteran musicians to use vintage instruments whenever possible and update the distinctive new wave sound they helped craft. Wise move: the consensus has been positive among critics (a rare occurrence) and the public (the new disc currently ranks No. 3 on Amazon).

All snazzily attired in black at the Mayan, Duran Duran took the stage to the classical strains of “Return to Now” from Now. Augmented by backing singer Anna Ross and percussionist/saxophonist Simon Willescroft, they immediately locked into the slamming groove of the new album’s title track, led by Nick Rhodes’ careening synth line.

“Being Followed,” a dark-hued tune about paranoia and paparazzi, saw John Taylor supplying nimble bass lines as lead singer Simon Le Bon (nowadays sporting a beard that makes him appear distinguished) whistled and Rhodes triggered siren sounds.

“How cool is this?” exclaimed Le Bon, before introducing My Chemical Romance leader Gerard Way, the first of several special guests. Tentatively trading vocals with Le Bon on “Planet Earth,” Way’s neon red hair recalled a young Rhodes.

Guitarist Dom Brown’s jagged playing on “Friends of Mine” was a highlight. Although Le Bon sang “It’s time that you were told / I think you’re growing old,” it was hard to believe these guys are at or near 50.

Voluptuous Beth Ditto, singer for the Gossip, admitted to being nervous as she added her soulful flutter to a funky “Notorious,” but quickly got into the flow as ’60s “flower power” images were projected on screens. “What a dream,” she said, after finishing.

“Blame the Machines,” all squelching guitar and high-flying harmonies, made its concert debut and was just as catchy as the old songs. Ronson himself added electric guitar to the infectious, dance-driven “Safe (In the Heat of the Moment),” propelled by Taylor’s slinky, Chic-inspired bass work.

Then a female string quartet arrived and stayed for most of the set’s remainder. They made graceful new ballad “Leave a Light On” even more luxurious, and a stately “Ordinary World” followed. Le Bon was in rich form on both, still managing the latter’s falsetto ending well while fan-submitted photos of painted hands and faces flashed on the screens.

Kelis reprised her role on the high drama and mystique of “The Man Who Stole a Leopard,” looking regal in a dress that made Le Bon say “wow” and using a lighted mic stand that changed from orange to pink. She seemed slightly uncomfortable during the tune, though.

Ronson rejoined for some rocking guitar on the dancey “Girl Panic,” preceded by Le Bon telling a story about a dream. Drummer Roger Taylor provided plenty of heavy percussion and primal beats on his raspberry-colored kit.

“Careless Memories” was lean and mean, and when Le Bon sang “you make me feel alive, alive, alive” on “Rio,” he could have been describing the rambunctious crowd. For the encores, Kelis returned for “Come Undone,” but her weak voice — even bolstered by Ross — added little.

As on the band’s previous tour, which stopped at Pacific Amphitheatre in July 2009, the sleek instrumental take on the late John Barry’s Goldfinger theme segued into a slow, Le Bon-recited vocal for “A View to a Kill,” before Duran, Ronson and the string players transitioned into the normal tempo. Still a rousing song — just like the band — after all these years.

Setlist: Duran Duran at the Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles, March 23, 2011

Main set: All You Need Is Now / Being Followed / Planet Earth / Friends of Mine / Notorious / Blame the Machines / Hungry Like the Wolf / Safe (In the Heat of the Moment) / Leave a Light On / Ordinary World / The Man Who Stole a Leopard / Girl Panic / Careless Memories / (Reach Up) For the Sunrise / Rio
Encore: Come Undone / Goldfinger Theme / A View to a Kill / Girls on Film

Courtesy Orange Country Register