There’s a subtle art to crafting the perfect hourlong festival set. Keep the dial cranked to “11” the whole time and you risk burning yourself and your audience out before reaching the halfway mark. Throw in too many deep cuts or slow songs and your viewers will seek refuge among one of a half-dozen other concurrent performances. A successful festival set requires a deft blend of hooks, dynamics and raw power, and on the third and final day of Austin City Limits’ first weekend, three vastly different rock bands — Duran Duran, Greta Van Fleet and White Reaper — employed those elements in different proportions, and to varying degrees of success....
Thankfully, a group of bona fide legends emerged just two hours later to show the kiddos what a real rock show looks like. Filling in at the 11th hour for Stevie Nicks (who canceled her remaining 2021 shows in August over COVID concerns), Duran Duran got down to business right away, opening their 60-minute set with the one-two punch of “The Reflex” and “Notorious,” anchored by Nick Rhodes’ futuristic synth arpeggios and John Taylor and Roger Taylor’s urgent drum-and-bass grooves. Frontman Simon Le Bon scaled his upper vocal register with ease, his lithe tenor sounding no worse for wear after 40-plus years of performing.
And boy, did he perform, skipping, twirling and dancing across the stage with the guileless enthusiasm of a local artist who just landed their first midday festival slot. Here’s a man who tasted every delicacy, indulged in every vice and saw every corner of the world in his heyday — and on Sunday night, he still wanted more.
“Did you have a nice weekend? Make any new friends?” Le Bon asked the crowd with a devilish grin. “Have a flirt? Listen to some good music? Have a little drinky? Smoke a little doobie?” He briefly turned serious as he introduced the tender ballad “Ordinary World” (“There were times over the last two years when it felt like it was never gonna happen again, but here we are”), but for the most part, the band stuck to transcendent, up-tempo dancefloor anthems, including the chart-topping James Bond theme “A View to a Kill,” the sleazy electro-trash gem “Girls on Film” and, of course, the euphoric pop-rock smash “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
A cover of Grandmaster Melle Mel’s “White Lines” fit like a glove, and the moody synth ballad “Save a Prayer” served as a palate cleanser before a soul-cleansing encore performance of “Rio.” The latter took Duran Duran about five minutes over their scheduled set time; fans would have happily accepted another 25. Instead, the band went out on a triumphant high note, accomplishing that rare feat characterizing the best hourlong festival sets — they left the audience wanting more.