Back in April, Duran Duran sold out the intimate Center Stage within minutes.
The band’s terrific 13th album, “All You Need is Now,” had recently received its physical release (the iTunes version arrived months earlier) and Duran was soaring on newfound momentum.
But then came a hitch in plans. Singer Simon LeBon lost his voice and the majority of the band’s summer European tour was axed while he worked with a voice therapist.
So much for momentum.
But after a few months of care, LeBon rebounded and he and original bandmates John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Nick Rhodes hit the road last month for a five-week tour.
Considering the rapid sellout of Duran’s spring gig, it’s really no surprise that Friday’s show – the finale of the season at Chastain Park Amphitheatre – was nearly sold out. Since it was – mercifully – a non-table setup, the floor was stacked with fans who rarely, if ever, sat down during the band’s two-hour concert.
While this performance wasn’t quite as spirited as their Center Stage appearance, Duran Duran nonetheless dazzled with a set list carefully devised to showcase several new tunes (they do have an album to promote, after all) and the MTV-era classics that still elicit teenybopper-like screaming from women (and men!) decades beyond their own adolescence.
The band opened with the new “Before the Rain,” a moody, “Chauffeur”-like song that seemed positioned in the leadoff slot to act as a vocal warm-up for LeBon.
Still a heartthrob at nearly 53, the bearded LeBon took a few songs to start twirling and punching the air – moves that have always counted as dancing for him – but the rest of the guys dove eagerly into “Planet Earth” and a crisp “A View to a Kill.”
Though Duran Duran is regarded by the uninformed as a superficial video band, they continued to show – as they have for two decades now – that the music is their priority. Their stage production was clean and effectively entertaining, with a trio of video screens broadcasting artsy video of the band and silhouettes of sexy women, and a light show that inflated “The Reflex” and augmented the adrenaline in “Careless Memories.”
The guys still fulfill the same stylistic posts they have since their inception – Rhodes is androgynously stoic as he works his keyboard wizardry, Roger Taylor is unobtrusive, anchoring the band with his solid rhythms, and John Taylor, the picture of lanky cool whose cheekbones could be seen from the lawn, remains one of the best (and most underrated) bassists currently playing.
The band also received a live assist from lovely backup singer Anna Ross, fiery percussionist Chastity Ashley and saxophonist Simon Willescroft, whose subtle work colored many Duran songs.
While LeBon’s voice sounded clear and strong in the first half of the show, unevenness poked through in the second hour.
The fan favorite “Secret Oktober” pulsed quietly under LeBon’s command, and he reached impressive high notes at the end of “Ordinary World” – perhaps the most beautiful song in Duran Duran’s deep canon. But some hoarseness could be heard in “Hungry Like the Wolf,” which was highlighted by a frenzy of lights, and “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise,” the band’s life-affirming anthem that sparked their reunion (with guitarist Andy Taylor, who has since left again and been replaced by Dom Brown) in 2004.
Of the new material, the industrial whirring that powered “All You Need is Now” added freshness to the song’s wistful message, while the sinewy “Girl Panic,” with its sublime bass line and vaguely Latin percussion, deserves to be a chart-topper if any radio station would pay attention to it.
But of course fans want to leave a show humming the familiar, making it perfectly sensible for the band to toss the clomping “Wild Boys” and sunshiny “Rio” into its encore. Because, after all, even the most played-out songs in Duran’s history will prompt that teenybopper screaming every time.
Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene blog
Follow me on Twitter @ajclifestyle
(Here’s a link to the review from the Center Stage show: http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-music-scene/2011/04/05/duran-duran-robust-and-rugged-at-center-stage-concert/)