ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — Despite their reunion tour's first show taking place at a hotel and casino, Duran Duran aren't ready for the time-warped Vegas circuit yet.
After more than 18 years apart, the original Fab Five's enthusiasm to be back together seemed to match that of their hyper thirtysomething fans packed into the Borgata Hotel and Casino. Taking the stage looking as dapper as the day they left it (though their over-the-top fashion sense has quieted since the years when they wore New Romantic frilly pirate shirts and more makeup than their girlfriends), the bandmembers exhibited a relaxed poise as they traded smiles and tore through the tunes that made them the poster boys of early-'80s pop and the music-video revolution.
In their prime, Duran Duran's musicianship too often took a backseat to their image — the guys were regularly portrayed in the press as pretty puppets scooted out onto the stage to play innocuous synth fluff, and bassist John Taylor was once quoted as saying he took more interest in the color of his trousers than his bass lines. At Saturday's show, which was mostly devoid of onstage extravagance save for some multicolored spotlights and strobes, the band relied on its tight performance and hook-filled pop, a reminder that Duran's music was in fact as vital to their iconic perception as their exotic and erotic music videos.
That isn't to say that John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and singer Simon LeBon took the stage as uncombed schlubs in jeans and T-shirts. The onetime object of every 13-year-old girl's desires, LeBon, dressed in a white leather sports jacket and tight black cargo pants, relived his days spent in front of the video camera with rallying fist-pumping and posturing that, at times, bordered on hokey. He knew he was going overboard when he fiendishly licked his fingers while sensually writhing to "Come Undone," from 1993's Duran Duran, or flapped his arms like a glammed-up albatross on "Night Boat," but those kinds of displays were brief and light-hearted. Mostly, his cocksure strut and strong voice, backed by the occasional harmonizing vocal track, set an example of showmanship and performance his bandmates followed.
Andy, in black shades and a pin-striped suit, was the most subdued of the group, though he came to life when his squealing guitar launched into "New Religion." Roger donned the traditional drummer's garb of a sleeveless shirt, and Nick Rhodes, with a crushed velvet jacket and bleached-out hair, looked like a mad scientist behind his keyboards. But John, in a perfectly tailored black suit sans necktie, was the most suave of all. Starting off as the least animated of the group, content to just lay down his bass lines in a reserved groove, his mood shifted mid-set and he was soon bounding across the stage to share a mic with Andy for some backup vocals.
The early emergence of one of Duran Duran's signature songs, "Hungry Like the Wolf," got things off to a rolling start and soothed the crowd's craving for nostalgia. The high spirits reached an early peak with "Planet Earth" and its sing-along "bop ba-da" ending, then faded somewhat for new song "What Happens Tomorrow," a lackluster ballad.
The mood stayed generally muted for the other new song they played, "Beautiful Colors," as well as "New Religion," off 1982's Rio, and "Anyone Out There" and "Night Boat," both from their 1981 self-titled debut. The song selection was curious, since hits such as "New Moon on Monday," "Union of the Snake" and "Is There Something I Should Know?" were ignored in favor of the new material and early album cuts, though it verified that Duran Duran weren't there solely to provide a greatest-hits revue. Even if the inclusion of their less popular fare disappointed those who cried for their favorites in between songs, the band stayed composed throughout, though LeBon did notice that something might have been amiss.
"We'd like to see you dancing to this song," he said before launching into their fervent dance hit "Notorious," the title cut from their 1986 album, the first without all the original members. And with that the stream of songs everyone knew by heart began to flow. "Wild Boys" found Andy pulling windmills on his guitar while John crouched beside him doing the funky chicken, somehow still managing to look cool. "Rio" and the two power-packed encore numbers, "The Reflex" and "Girls on Film," then elevated the atmosphere to a nearly dizzying level as the room shook with an ecstatic release that many thought would never come to pass.
The show, far from the performances given in their heyday, demonstrated that even without the arenas, giant video monitors, full leather suits and themed set designs, Duran Duran needn't rely on the past to sustain their place in the present. Now, with their music in the spotlight more so than their hair and handsome square jaws, they're able to transcend the ties to the decade notorious for placing shoulder-padded style over substance.
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