Monday, March 07, 2005

It's a (not-so) New Religion: Duran Duran, Live

It's very surreal to be old enough to have bands who were popular in my youth break up, reform in truncated fashion, then reunite years later in full original-lineup regalia for reunion tours. Such involved histories only happen to geezers like Crosby Stills and Nash, for God's sake-- not Duran Duran.

But sure enough, this Wednesday March 9, those selfsame Britpop sensations from the Big Hair and Shoulder-Pads-to-Match decade will hit the stage at the Everett Events Center in lovely Everett, Washington for a reunion show. And though I'm normally too much of a jaded music geek to participate in an honest-to-God arena concert, this one promises to be interesting. For one thing, it's the first time in 16 years that the original lineup (vocalist Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, and the three unrelated Taylors named John, Andy, and Roger on bass, guitar, and drums respectively) are playing as a group. For another, time has granted DD something critics in the '80's refused to yield; status as elder statesmen, and some belated respect.

Duran Duran were one of the firstNew Wave bands of the '80's to really break through on a big mainstream level to Americans. DD cannily combined elements alien to most US record buyers--British synthesizer music and European disco--with enough familiar touches (slinky,danceable funk rhythms and seamlessly-constructed pop hooks) to become one of the biggest acts on the planet for much of the Reagan era. It also helped that the Fab Five were all abject dreamboats. Their good looks and ambitious music videos (on an upstart cable channel called MTV) made British New Wave androgyny acceptible to stateside listeners, and downright desirable to a whole generation of girls--yours truly's wife was a Simon LeBon/ John Taylor girl herself.

Their first three records, 1981's Duran Duran, Rio (1982), and Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1984) got pooped on pretty relentlessly by the music press upon initial release, but time has vindicated these efforts pretty thoroughly. Unlike a lot of the synth-based UK bands who flooded the market at the time, these guys could really play (John and Roger Taylor provided an impressive, organic rhythm section), and the soaring melodies, spot-on harmonies, and surprising instrumental snap hold up well today. And with a lot of young bands out there co-opting their sound for a new generation of pogoing kids, Duran Duran sound positively daisy-fresh now.

After releasing several albums with a truncated lineup of LeBon, Rhodes, and John Taylor, DD are now touring behind a new CD recorded with the full original lineup in place. Astronaut is a respectable, well-played effort, with LeBon's voice sounding better than ever. But like many releases from reunited veterans getting back into the ring for one last musical bout, it lacks the bold neon hooks and exotic touches that made the old stuff so great. No matter; word has it that the set list will focus heavily on classics like "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Rio", and that the Fab Five are playing the back catalog like champions. That's enough for me. Plus, they still look good, which will make a lot of females in attendance very happy.

When I was a teenager living in a little pimple of a suburb in the '80's, punk and new wave were considered different sides of the same coin. Being male and listening to either the Ramones or Duran Duran got you labelled a faggot. I listened to both. The Ramones provided cathartic, headbanging manic energy for my adolescent anger; DD was a swoonily-exotic, lushly cinematic soundscape for adolescent romance. So, in addition to the academic interest of hearing a seasoned and influential band back in action in a live setting, I'll do a little bit of swoony swaying Wednesday night, too. Don't say a prayer for me now, save it 'til the morning after...

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