When I was an editor at Billboard, I was guaranteed to get hate mail if I wrote remotely negative things about two acts: Kiss and Duran Duran. Long after both hit their radio heyday, both groups had fervent fans that revered them with an unabated loyalty.
The Durannies were out in full force last night (March 23) for Duran Duran’s concert at Los Angeles’ beautiful Mayan Theater. The show kicked off the second season of “American Express Unstaged,” a concert series beamed around the world live. Director David Lynch directed the performance. Since we were in the audience, we didn’t see what those watching on the internet saw, but from what we’ve read, they were treated to the full-on Lynchian experience, complete with such images as naked Barbies and stuff animals,floating around the band members.
Duran Duran is on the comeback trail. As my colleague Katie Hasty mentioned, the band played a well-received show at SXSW last week, and released its new Mark Ronson-produced album, “All You Need is Now,” its first in four years, on Tuesday (March 22) on S-Curve Records. (A shorter version of the album came out via iTunes three months ago). Also on its U.S. schedule are headlining dates at Coachella and Ultra Music Festival.
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Lead singer Simon LeBon’s voice sounded strong, despite an occasional muddy mix and some . He, like the rest of the band, also looks great, even though from where we sat, with his scruffy beard, he looks much more like a sleek, trim George Michael than the LeBon we came to love in the ‘80s. His stage moves, which include an adorable little gallop, aren’t nearly as vibrant as we remember from the shows we saw in the ‘80s, but he warmed up appreciatively during the show to the point that he did an awkward shimmy during the show’s penultimate number, “Rio.” Bassist/guitarist John Taylor played a willing foil to LeBon, occasionally coming downstage to take the spotlight. The two other founding members, drummer Roger Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes, seemed very happy to stay in the background (literally and figuratively).
Last night’s show was also about creating water cooler moments by adding some high-powered guest stars. My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way joined LeBon for a spirited “Planet Earth,” which was a hit when Way was four. Way seemed genuinely thrilled to be a temporary D-squared member, exclaiming, “How cool is this?” as he took the stage.
However, no guest seemed more excited to be there than the Gossip’s Beth Ditto. She shimmied out in a festive dress and could barely contain her excitement, linking arms with an equally delighted LeBon as if he were her prom date (and who didn’t dream of that much-desired wish!). Ditto performed “Notorious” with great verve, wrapping her voice around LeBon’s. LeBon asked her how she was doing, to which she responded “I’m okay, a little nervous,” as if it were all she could do to keep from putting her hands over her mouth and screaming “Oh my God, Oh my God.” It was the highlight of the evening.
Although the show included a number of hits, including a lush, dramatic , extended reading of the band’s James Bond theme, “View to a Kill” (complete with female cellists and violinists), “Girls on Film,” “Ordinary World,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and an energetic “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise,” much of the 100-minute show focused on “All You Need is Now.” Producer Ronson joined the band for the spirited “Safe (In the Heat of the Moment),” while Kelis, and her trademark, magically lighted microphone, showed up for two tracks including the electronica-tinged “The Man Who Stole A Leopard.”
The best of the new cuts were the tender “Leave A Light On,” a clear successor to “Ordinary World,” and “Girl Panic!,” which has the vibrancy of “Girls on Film.”
“All You Need is Now” is a strong album, one of DD’s best in years, and, as last night showed, they are clearly still on their game.
By Melinda Newman – Band is joined by some very special guest for March 23 Los Angeles show