BOSTON — Fans filled the FleetCenter Friday night to see Vertical Horizon, Jason Mraz, Michelle Branch, Dido, Tori Amos, Train and the Barenaked Ladies, but people actually fled the venue to avoid seeing Duran Duran.
With only six hours for eight artists to perform at WBMX-FM’s 10th annual MixFest, the evening was strictly a hits-and-only-the-hits affair, with some artists playing fewer than five songs.
Michelle Branch took the stage early in support of her latest album, Hotel Paper, clad simply in jeans, a sleeveless white T-shirt and Chuck Taylors. Charging through a brisk set of hits, the 20-year-old girl-wonder seemed most at home with an acoustic guitar in hand, belting out pitch-perfect versions of “Everywhere” and “Goodbye to You.”
But when liberated from her instrument for “Love Me Like That,” “Breathe” and current hit “Are You Happy Now?,” Branch’s stage presence — which consisted primarily of aimlessly wandering the stage — felt uncomfortably green, especially when compared to the frenzied ants-in-her-pants gyrations of Tori Amos or the pristine control of Dido.
At her first live show in several months, Dido showed that less is more in a stripped-down, five-song set accompanied solely by a lone acoustic guitarist. The sugar-voiced chanteuse — wearing jeans, simple gold jewelry and her dark blonde hair pulled back in a spray — leaned against a small wooden stool and beamed at the hushed audience as she chimed out immaculate renditions of the hits “White Flag” and “Thank You” as well as the title track from her new Life for Rent.
Jason Mraz looked less like the Hugh Grant-ish photo from the back of his Waiting for My Rocket to Come and more like Jimmy Buffet as he took the stage wearing a slouch hat pulled down over his eyes and a flowered lei that had been tossed onstage by a fan. For 20 minutes he and his band churned out a soulful set of tunes including “The Remedy” as well as a quirky reggaed-up version of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” during which Mraz’s swooping tenor hit high notes unheard on his record.
Mraz wasn’t the only one to embrace cover songs. Train blasted out a searing rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” and Tori Amos howled through haunting versions of the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Amos further pushed the creepy envelope when her playing became so frenzied that she could be seen on the FleetCenter’s giant video screen drooling onto her grand piano.
Finally it was time for the reunited original lineup of Duran Duran — a moment that most of the night’s artists seemed to be looking forward to. The Barenaked Ladies did an impromptu rap about their love of Duran Duran, Dido admitted she had seen them at least 10 times, and even Michelle Branch, whose birth date falls a few years after the double-D’s first flush of fame, said she was “psyched.” It quickly became apparent, however, that the artists were far more excited than the audience.
Well coiffed and in immaculate black suits, Duran Duran looked sharp as ever, but their age was definitely showing, despite attempts to hide it with makeup and hair dye. So it felt a bit wrong when singer Simon LeBon opened their set by belting out the lyrics to the band’s 1984 hit “Wild Boys” — lines like “Wild Boys never lose it/ Wild Boys always shine!”
There for the novelty and not much more, a good third of the crowd streamed out of the venue during the first half of the band’s set, so when the Durans finally slipped into gear on “Ordinary World,” which they dedicated to the recently deceased Robert Palmer, only hardcore fans were left to watch Duran Duran nail “Notorious,” “Careless Memories” and “Rio” as well as their own cover, a hard rocking rendition of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines.”
“Wild boys fallen far from glory …”
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