Duran Duran Delights Fans with Big Hits and New Tunes in Irvine

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Duran Duran opened its show Saturday with “Paper Gods,” the title track of its most recent album, and while it’s a very good Duran Duran song, it also delivered a message: Yes, most of you probably fell in love with our band and our music more than three decades ago, but we are not done yet.

It would have been simple to skip the new stuff and go straight into “The Wild Boys,” the second song in the set at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, but when you still feel creatively inspired, as bassist John Taylor said in our recent interview, and when you’re still turned on by new music, why turn into a nostalgia act and just coast on past glories?

How did that play at Irvine Meadows? To their credit, most in the audience responded enthusiastically to the four new songs scattered throughout the 18 numbers in the show. (That tickets came with copies of the new album no doubt helped.)

And sure, fans went wilder for the biggest hits, but throughout the two hours Duran Duran was on stage, the band felt modern and fresh no matter the age of the song it was playing, and anything but a legacy act simply going through the motions

If you’re of a certain age, as, well, I am, there’s a visceral thrill to hearing songs such as “Hungry Like the Wolf,” which, yes, takes one back to the early days of MTV when the video for it was always on, but which also remains a fantastic slice of New Wave rock ‘n’ roll, from its stinging guitars and synths to the soaring chorus that invites everyone to sing along.

The band currently features singer Simon Le Bon, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor from its classic lineup – keyboard player Nick Rhodes is temporarily off tour to deal with family matters – and all three played and sang as powerfully as ever. Le Bon occasionally ceded the highest parts to the band’s two backup singers, but mostly sounded exactly as he did in the earliest days of the British band’s success.

“Last Night in the City,” another of the new songs, featured a modern electronic dance music feel, a low bass line and heavy drum beats perfect for the club, but “Pressure Off,” which featured Nile Rodgers of Chic – the opening act and the producer of this track – might have been the best of the numbers off the album behind this Paper Gods tour.

Le Bon paused to talk affectionately about Rodgers when he came on stage with Duran Duran for that song and “Notorious,” telling the story of how they’d heard INXS’ “Original Sin” years before and asked Rodgers if he’d remix a single version of their song “The Reflex.”

“There began a beautiful relationship that’s lasted 33 years,” he said. “I love this guy like he’s my brother.”

“Planet Earth,” one of two numbers drawn from the band’s self-titled debut, featured its earliest influences, acts such as Kraftwerk and David Bowie, which made the mid-song segue into Bowie’s “Space Oddity” a touching tribute to a late hero.

While most of the band’s biggest hits are uptempo rockers, they’ve also got their share of slower songs that had the crowd swaying and holding their cellphones aloft and alight. “Ordinary World” might have been the best of those, with a lovely vocal by Le Bon, a blazing guitar solo by guitarist Dom Brown at the finish, and strong keyboards from MNDR, the stage name used by singer-songwriter Amanda Warner, who’s filling in for Rhodes this summer.

Highlights of the back end of the show included (Reach Up for the) Sunrise, which shifted into “New Moon on Monday” halfway through, a sizzling cover of Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” and “The Reflex,” played in the beefed-up version Rodgers helped craft though he’d left the stage by then.

“Girls on Film,” another of their earliest songs, closed out the main set, before “Save a Prayer” turned the amphitheater into a sea of cellphones glowing once more, and “Rio” – like “Hungry Like the Wolf,” a fizzy rush of memories, a fun throwback to the first time you saw it on MTV – wrapped up things for this strong, still quite modern band.

Rodgers and Chic turned the venue into a dance club for an hour before Duran Duran came on, playing hits by Chic such as “Le Freak” and “Good Times,” but also others he had written, produced or played on. That latter list included such danceable numbers as Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down,” Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.

Los Angeles-based electronic music DJ Tokimonsta played a short set to open everything up, and while the crowd was still ambling in, it made for a fun way to get the party started, at times featuring MNDR from Duran Duran on vocals.

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Contact the writer: 714-796-7787 or plarsen@ocregister.com

Courtesy Orange County Register