With Good Music and Fervor, Duran Duran Stays Vital at Sands Bethlehem Event Center

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Duran Duran, with good music and fervor, shows it's still vital at Sands Bethlehem Event Center - John J. Moser

Three decades later, Duran Duran has shown itself to be one of the few bands that made it out of the 1980s not only still capable of playing its catalog with the fervor that defined it, but of making new music that’s vital.

That may be a surprise, considering just how much Duran Duran was defined by not only its 1980s sound, but its image, as well.

But the real surprise is that what makes the band successful today – its most recent album, last fall’s “Paper Gods,” was its first U.S. Top 10 in more than 20 years – is that its new music, while having evolved, still is rooted in the sound that made it popular in the first place.

And that’s good – those songs still hold up incredibly well, especially when played with the fervor they were at Duran Duran’s concert Tuesday at Sands Bethlehem Event Center. It wasn’t as if Duran Duran was reclaiming its past as much as it was simply extending it.

And played aside those hits, the new songs clearly showed themselves to be the progeny of that ‘80s sound.

That made for a seamless concert of 16 songs in a 90-minute show (one song and 15 minutes longer than the band’s August show at Bethlehem’s Musikfest festival).

The thumping and synthy opening song, the “Paper Gods” title track, meshed well with hits such as “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “A View to a Kill.”

One reason they did is because Duran Duran played those hits with equal intensity. The group played songs now nearly 35 years old as if they were fresh, without even so much as a nod to nostalgia.

“A View to a Kill” was especially sharp, with vocalist Simon Le Bon shouting himself nearly hoarse. Le Bon was clearly the star of the night -- especially sharp vocally (even better than at Musikfest) and, looking fit in white pants and a white leather jacket, still dancing at age 57.

Yet Le Bon wasn’t above playfulness in his phrasing on “Hungry Like the Wolf.” And while the band was tight, it wasn’t beyond spontaneity – even restarting after a flubbed beginning to “Come Undone,” which ended up being other-worldly.

But the other players were stellar, as well. Le Bon rightfully acknowledged guitarist Dom Brown’s work on the slow, new “What Are the Chances,” which Le Bon sang seated. Brown also was a standout on “Ordinary World,” which also had great vocals by Le Bon.

An especially funky “Notorious” featured sax and John Taylor’s bass. Le Bon introduced it by asking the packed, nearly sold-out crowd, “You guys up for a little dance?” And the crowd responded by dancing, too.

[If anything, the tighter quarters of the event center made the show more intense and immediate than at Musikfest. The Sands crowd was likey 750 fewer than the 4,489 the band drew to Musikfest.]

The new songs “Last Night in the City” and “Pressure Off,” the first single from “Paper Gods,” were equally as funky and synthy, though in a slightly updated way. And 1988’s “I Don’t Want Your Love” the band’s last Top 10 hit, either was more groove-based than remembered, or the band made it that way.

Of all the night’s songs, “Planet Earth,” the group’s 1981 breakthrough, was the only one that sounded a bit dated. But it still was likable, and three minutes into it, the band segued into a two-minute version David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” with a picture of the singer projected behind the band.

Duran Duran also paid tribute to Bowie with a “Let’s Dance” snippet into its 1995 dance hit “White Lines.” That song, too, came off as pumping and fresh.

The band closed out the main set by combining another dance hit, 2004’s “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise” with “New Moon on Monday,” then going right into a five-minute version of “The Wild Boys” that was just as good as when it was a hit in 1982.

If there was a complaint, it was that with such as rich catalog, Duran Duran chose to skip some of its best songs.

As it did at Musikfest, Duran Duran skipped its first big hit, “Girls on Film,” but this time also skipped perhaps its biggest hit, “The Reflex.” “Union of the Snake” and “Is There Something I Should Know” also were missing.

For its encore, the band played its 1985 minor hit “Save a Prayer” – an understandable choice, as Le Bon explained that the band had recorded it with the band Eagles of Death Metal before terrorists attacked that band’s Paris concert in November.

“Music is something designed to bring people together,” Le Bon said. “Convey love and understanding and tolerance.”

Then Duran Duran closed with a five-minute all-stops-out version of “Rio.”

The song showed that neither Duran Duran nor its music has lost what made it so good in the 1980s.

Courtesy The Morning Call