Duran Duran Might’ve Just Played the Best Azalea Festival Concert of all Time.

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The ’80s icons proved they’re no mere nostalgia act with an epic performance.

By John Staton StarNews Staff
Looking and sounding like they haven’t skipped a beat since the 1980s, the veteran English band Duran Duran wowed an Azalea Festival crowd Friday night with an energetic show that was an aural and visual feast.

The crowd started out small and sedate. But not long after an opening set by Athens, Georgia, band Roadkill Ghost Choir, whose style and singer recalled the rocker Tom Petty, the audience swelled to be easily larger than Thursday night’s Azalea Festival show headlined by country singer Cole Swindell.

“Have you had your beer and hot dogs? Or was it Champagne and caviar?” asked Duran Duran’s ageless singer, Simon Le Bon, shortly after the band opened the show with a knockout version of the slinky title track from its 2015 album “Paper Gods,” which was the perfect way to show that this is no mere nostalgia act.

For the most part the band, which includes longtime members Nick Rhodes on synths, John Taylor on bass and Roger Taylor on drums -- the touring outfit includes a pair of backup singers, a sax player and a guitarist -- seemed to have more passion for its recent stuff than for such ’80s hits as “Hungry Like the Wolf” and the James Bond theme “A View to a Kill,” both of which felt a little rote.

But “Wild Boys” was as fresh and edgy as when it came out 30-plus years ago, and the electronic funk of “Notorious” and “I Don’t Want Your Love” were incendiary. The band also paid homage to one of its influences, the late David Bowie, with a short version of “Major Tom,” and a reworking of Grandmaster Flash’s seminal hip-hop jam “White Lines” was nothing short of brilliant.

Le Bon, looking much younger than his 58 years and at times absolutely Jagger-esque as he strutted, struck poses and busted out little dance movies, wore a powder-blue jacket, white jeans, bright green kicks and a tight-fitting blue T-shirt. Introducing the sexy “Come Undone,” he joked about his concern that kids might be in the audience. “I’ve got a teddy bear, and I kiss it good night every night. But there’s other things I prefer.”

The staging was fantastic, with shooting lights and smoke and a massive video screen. At times the band looked like it was emerging from one of its stylish videos, and the set was a perfect backdrop for Duran Duran’s soulful electronic gospel disco funk. No doubt the wall of sound and all the flash helps distract from any imperfections, but the concert was a clinic in cool for a band that some mistakenly assumed had seen better days.

“Ordinary World” was one of the few ballads Duran Duran played until leading off a rather tepidly called for encore with a spine-tingling version of “Save a Prayer,” which had the crowd singing along in full throat. Then, of course, they closed with “Rio,” which brought the house down (even if the band sounds a little tired of performing it after 35 years) as multiple, massive beach balls were ejected into the crowd, where the concert-goers happily batted them around.

“I heard you have a new thing here,” Le Bon said as the show ended, lobbing a joke about the 70th Azalea Festival. ”It looks like it’s going to be a great success.”

The band’s set certainly was. Best Azalea Festival concert ever? Put it in the books.

Courtesy StarNews. Click for photos

Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.