Friday, September 30, 2011

Duran Duran concert review: Los Angeles

Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran
A version of my review originally appeared at 

When Duran Duran appeared on the third day of Coachella this past April, the band turned in a tight, transcendent performance that proved all the cynics wrong (you know: the ones who sniped about them belonging on a festival bill alongside Arcade Fire, the Black Keys, the Strokes, PJ Harvey, etc.).
Even bassist John Taylor later cited the gig as a career highlight. A month after, front man Simon Le Bon lost his voice amid a show in Cannes . The group’s summer European tour had to be scuttled while doctors determined the problem. He went through vocal therapy, learned better techniques and posture and Duran Duran’s North American tour of large venues started last week.
Latest release All You Need is Now, produced by Mark Ronson, is among the British synth-pop vets’ sharpest and well-received albums to date. He sought a return to Duran Duran’s avant garde spirit of the early 1980s and definitely succeeded. The title track went to No. 1 on the iTunes singles chart in 15 countries last December, followed by the digital and eventual physical CD release of Now.
Why it hasn’t sold like gangbusters is baffling. Maybe the upcoming music video for “Girl Panic!” by award-winning director Jonas Akerlund (Lady Gaga, U2, Madonna) featuring former supermodels Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen and Yasmin Le Bon will help refocus the spotlight.
Duran Duran's John Taylor
Tuesday night in Los Angeles, the original four members – including keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor; plus guitarist Dom Brown and three auxiliary musicians - packed Nokia Theatre. The impressive 100-minute set was filled with a generous dose of mostly upbeat hits, a stellar chunk from “All You Need is Now” and a couple surprises.
Taking the stage to the orchestral “Return to Now,” Duran Duran got off to a highly dramatic start with the regal ballad, “Before the Rain.” A risky move, but it worked. An extended drum intro to “Planet Earth” built excitement as the audience stood and females shrieked upon the first close-up glimpse of bassist Taylor on the big screens. 
The first test of Le Bon’s current vocal stamina was on the James Bond film theme “A View to a Kill,” now back to the original live arrangement. It’s a selection that can be difficult even on good days, but he managed just fine (the same circumstances held true on “Ordinary World” toward the end of the evening).
Some rare Duran humor came in the form of four transparent synthetic masks placed high above the stage. A few times, the guys’ faces would be projected on them, either singing or sporting garish sunglasses, while backing vocalist Anna Ross’ face was transformed into an animal. I thought the props should’ve been used more often. 
Among the concert highlights: an infectious, danceable “Safe (In the Heat of the Moment),” a nod to John Taylor’s early Chic influence; a fun, extended “The Reflex,” complete with Le Bon’s famous spin from the video; the funky, percussion-heavy “Girl Panic!”; the sinister rocking edge to “Careless Memories,” where still proved to be a worthy successor to Andy Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo; and the exhilarating “(Reach Up For the) Sunrise.”  
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran
There were also some surprises.
John Taylor admitted to being a “tweet-o-holic” onstage and urged people to tweet messages about Duran that appeared on the screens during exotic, rare “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” instrumental, “Tiger Tiger.” Later, during the encores, Brown used an enticing new guitar effect for his weepy “Ordinary World” solo.
The beefy, tribal “Wild Boys” whipped fans into even more of a frenzy and was a showcase for Roger Taylor. It segued into Frankie Goes to Hollywood ’s “Relax” (unfortunately just a snatch) then circled back to the original song.
While listening to Simon Willescroft’s sax work on always electrifying concert closer “Rio,” I couldn’t help think about how that solo is one of the most iconic from the ‘80s New Wave era. And Duran Duran is the quintessential band.
Neon Trees, reviewed here recently at Coachella, was a perfect fit to open for Duran. The Utah-via-Temecula alt-rock group did an exuberant 40-minute set consisting of tunes from their 2010 Habits EP, notably the multi-format radio hit single “Animal.”
Duran Duran and Neon Trees head to Harrah’s Rincon Casino, Open Sky Theatre, 777 Harrahs Rincon Way, Valley Center , 8 p.m. Oct. 1, $54.50-$70.40.
For future tour dates and info, go to
Photos by Chris Young

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