Passionate Duran Duran set at United Center shows off the band’s breadth

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Though older and maybe even wiser musicians, the British synth-pop veterans are still ready to host one epic dance party. By Selena Fragassi - For the Sun-Times

Someone may want to tell Duran Duran they’ve already clinched a spot in the latest class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. At their passionate, wildly fun, nostalgic romp Saturday night at the United Center, the British synth-pop delights performed like they were still vying for the vote.

Chicago became the North American tour kickoff after weather forced the cancellation of a planned Minnesota appearance the night prior, and their first U.S. show since Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor (and former guitarist Andy Taylor) got the news about their Rock Hall destiny, alongside Pat Benatar, Eminem, Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie.

The Rock Hall Foundation has hailed them as “new wave outsiders who became video stars,” and pop stars’ reputation preceded them in the best way possible Saturday night, exceeding expectations as they combed through their discography in a calculated way to show the breadth of their body of work.

From the earliest tracks — the punk undertones of “Careless Memories,” the electro-pop wonder “Planet Earth” and early dance hit “Girls on Film” (complete with shutter snapping sound effects), all from their 1981 self-titled debut — to their latest material from 2021 album “Future Past,” the show became a musical documentary of a 40-year career with few misses. A retro video montage during “Hold Back the Rain” drove that effect home.

The band set the tone early with opener “The Wild Boys,” a tongue-in-cheek statement to clarify that, though older and maybe even wiser musicians, they are still ready to host one epic dance party. The nearly sold-out crowd took heed and shimmied in kind throughout the almost two-hour marathon, the smiles suggesting some great memories playing through their heads. Frontman Le Bon at one point outstretched his arms and closed his eyes, breathing it all in. “It’s called crowd bathing, like sun bathing but better,” he explained.

Dressed in their best “Miami Vice” suit jackets and skinny pleather metallic pants, the Duran Duran rockers are still a beacon of ’80s glam while beautifully aging with the times. Though they’ve outlived some things — the era of MTV playing music videos, Teen Beat centerfolds and ridiculously feathered hair — they’re still pushing the needle forward and fit well into the new generation of synth-pop darlings.

The name of Duran Duran’s latest album, “Future Past,” is a great way to phrase it — a nod to the formative years while still taking big leaps forward. On it the band partners with modern muses like Tove Lo and Japanese band Chai while also tinkering with the master of Euro disco Giorgio Moroder. Launching into several of the album’s tracks like “Invisible,” “Gave It All Up,” “Tonight United” and the Duran Duran doo-wop “Anniversary,” lines were blurred in their own chronology, with the band still putting out pinnacle pop melodies.

The early masters of video production brought a set full of mood-setting imagery throughout the night though short on other theatrics. But that only put the focus on the prime moments of each band member. Save for a few raspy parts, Le Bon’s voice was impeccable, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Taylor held a steady rhythmic front and Nick “keyboard god” Rhodes (Le Bon’s words) was in ultra-sharp form. Guitarist Dominic Brown (the latest in the band the last decade or so after a rotating cast) added to the chemistry, with winding solos that gave extra panache. But it was the addition of talented saxophonist Simon Willescroft and backup singers Rachael O’Connor and Anna Ross (who aced the harmonies on “Come Undone”) that fortified the live set.

“This feels like a Saturday night down at the local with all your best mates,” Le Bon said at one point, after roaring reactions to the band’s biggest hits “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “The Reflex” and closer “Rio” (the tour celebrates that single’s 40th birthday).

Yet he also paused on the real world happening outside the arena, asking that everyone having a good time take a moment to “spare a thought for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.” Le Bon dedicated a moving rendition of “Ordinary World” to those caught in the crosshairs of war as the blue and yellow flag was superimposed over imagery on the video screens. “We have to support them … and keep them going through this so they know the rest of the world is on their side.”

Nile Rodgers & Chic were the special guests opening the night with perfect disco sheen on “Le Freak,” “Good Times” and “Let’s Dance,” which Rodgers wrote with David Bowie. The music impresario also has collaborated often with Duran Duran, with his appearance only adding to the night’s celebratory feel.

Courtesy Chicago Sun-Times