Concert review: Duran Duran worth the wait

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Concert review: Duran Duran worth the wait

By Tony Hicks

CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Shrieks Erupted from either end of the hallway Wednesday, magnetically drawing closer and closer until they converged in the middle, like screaming fire trucks arriving at the same blaze from different directions.

"OhmyGOD, I totally touched him ... Andy was SO NICE. Omigod ... Nick ... and ... and ... was shy ... and OHHHH ... I said 'How do I touch him' ... nooo ... I'm SOEXCITED ... I'm ... I'm ... I'm ... I CAN'T TAKE IIIIIIIITTT!!!"

We interrupt this four-woman huddle of frantic pre-show blithering near the bar to make a quick point: These undignified, quivering women, who apparently did a backstage meet-and-greet, were in their 40s. Oh, and it's 2005.

So now we know why '80s hitmaker Duran Duran got its original members back together, made a record and hit the road last year, coming to San Jose's HP Pavilion on Wednesday. Their worldwide army of teenyboppers -- who eventually had to grow up and accept their fates with much lesser men -- are again ready to spend their concert dollars to fill arenas and scream like banshees getting root canals without medication.

But dismissing Duran Duran as just five pretty faces has always been wrong. The good looks were just gravy for a groundbreaking pop style mixing Chic-ish grooves with the early New Romantics sounds of bands such as Roxy Music. It's kind of easy to forget what an overwhelming pile of hits they wrote between 1981 and 1985.

But make no mistake -- it's those '80s hits and those looks that still allow Duran Duran to play arenas in 2005. It certainly is neither the popularity nor the quality of last year's big reunion record, "Astronaut," the first record with guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor in 20 years.

But they made the record and, like any good '80s band, they have to promote it. Though the new songs (and, come to think of it, the old ones as well) from the show's first half of Wednesday's show dragged and generally underachieved, it was at least clear Duran Duran hasn't resigned itself to the oldies circuit. It's not even like the new songs are that bad -- more like the filler between hits on a decent record.

Maybe despite those still-pretty faces, the fellas are a bit older and need more time to warm up. The first third of the show teetered on boredom -- and this was with an arena full of fans squarely in their corner.

After walking out straight-faced sans instruments and standing at the edge of the stage (perhaps to let the women scream themselves out a bit so everyone could get on with the show), they opened with "(Reach Up For The) Sunrise," the one new song that almost passed as a hit. "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Union of the Snake" and a lackluster "Hold Back the Rain" came and went without incident. They had such an advantage, having the crowd just where they wanted them, and they were about to squander it by the time they played the new record's very average title track.

But here's the thing about Duran Duran, something for which the group never got enough credit. Duran Duran was always at its best when truly trying to be artsy. Even in the band's best dance-pop songs, its insistence on writing good changes and a solid three to four parts per song, instead of just beating a hook to death, set it apart.

Which takes us to the gorgeously layered, early '90s hit "Come Undone." Suddenly, with one song, they were rolling. On "I Don't Want Your Love," they set loose guitarist Andy Taylor, who has always been the rock contrast to bassist John Taylor's funk or singer Simon LeBon's art school coolness. It was like someone threw a switch and the band started having fun.

There were still a few sedate moments on new material -- slightly awkward, as if it didn't fit with the groove. But the band made up for it on the vibe-heavy instrumental "Tiger Tiger," from "Seven and the Ragged Tiger," featuring the lads at their musical best, getting moody, with lots of guitar effects crashing against multisynth tracks peppered with electronic drums, all overlayed with a drifting saxophone. They just piled on the vibe from there, going back to 1993 for "Ordinary World," peaking with big dynamics from Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor at the end, and "Save a Prayer."

Then came the typical show-ending roll of hits -- "Notorious," "The Reflex," "Wild Boys," a big version of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines," (which, though he didn't play on their mid-90s cover, gave Andy Taylor just another chance to go off), "Girls on Film" and "Rio." The group finished big and strong, like an '80s arena band should. The screams just went on and on.

Courtesy Contra Costa Times

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