Photos by Chris Gray
Alone among its pretty-boy peers in the early and mid-'80s, Duran Duran was the blackest band to regularly hit the pop charts from either side of the pond. Only the Aussies in INXS had anywhere near the same level of interest in funk and disco, and the chops to pull it off.
Reading guitarist Andy Taylor's recent memoir Wild Boy: My Life In Duran Duran, it becomes clear just how much the band was influenced by black music - Chic rhythm section Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson were like mentors to Taylor and his unrelated Duran mates John (bass) and Roger (drums) even before they formed Power Station with Andy, John and late singer Robert Palmer.
Andy has since left (amicably), but Duran Duran may be more of a disco band than ever. Several newer songs at Friday's Verizon Wireless Theater - which went off at the 11th hour when keyboardist Nick Rhodes was finally cleared to travel after suffering an ear infection in Panama; San Antonio, Dallas and Tulsa weren't so lucky - chief among them pulsing opener "The Valley" and the very INXS-ish "Nite Runner," both from last year's Red Carpet Massacre, had the sold-out crowd dancing even more than "Notorious" and "The Reflex."
Well, okay, maybe not. But it was a close call, and it was hard to tell because everyone in the building - or everyone but, for some reason, the people in Aftermath's row; way to go, guys - was pretty much dancing all night, except for the midshow ballad interlude of the new "Falling Down," a virtual carbon copy of its reggae-fied successor "Come Undone" and the glittering Spanish-style guitar of "Ordinary World," which, on the right night, still brings a lump to Aftermath's throat.
But nobody goes to a Duran Duran show to feel sad, at least not for very long, and it was hard to feel anything other than a huge adrenaline rush during the epic "Planet Earth" and sleekly stylized "Hungry Like the Wolf," which Aftermath witnessed from the photo pit, wedged between the band and all-female front row like it was the Summit in 1983 all over again.
Singer Simon LeBon strode the stage with cool charismatic confidence - he may not run quite as fast as "The Reflex" video, but he's every bit as debonair. Remarking several time how happy the band was to be resuming its tour in Houston ("[Rhodes] didn't get on a plane for San Antonio... he didn't get on a plane for Dallas..."), LeBon found a moment to be catty too.
"Have you seen the new Bond film? It's quite good, isn't it?"
"What do you think of the song [Alicia Keys & Jack White's 'Another Way to Die']?"
Ouch! Actually, Aftermath quite likes the new Bond song, but when you've written the best Bond theme ever - "A View to a Kill," done ever so suavely Friday - you're allowed to brag a bit. LeBon's voice also shone on the cathedral-like choruses of "Save a Prayer" and "Is There Something I Should Know?" - which has the best '80s lyric ever, "You're about as easy as a nuclear war" - smoothed over John's filthy fuzz-bass on "Reflex" and stalked the woodpecker-like electronic drums of "Wild Boys."
And hats off to Andy's replacement Dominic Brown, who seemed every bit as schooled in T. Rex, Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie and the Buzzcocks as his predecessor - his parts on Red Carpet Massacre's title track, "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise" - the lone keeper from 2004 dud Astronaut - and the band's infamous Grandmaster Flash/Melle Mel cover "White Lines (Don't Do It)," which Aftermath has always loved, were straight-up wicked, spraying bright-red rock-guitar blood all over the rest of the band's ginormous club grooves.
If the band was tired after leaving the stage after the hour-plus main set ended with a rafter-reaching "Wild Boys" - Rhodes' fluid, busy keyboards seemed to indicate he wasn't feeling poorly at all - it sure didn't show it on encore "Girls on Film." One of those songs that get drawn out so the singer can introduce the band - Aftermath didn't catch the name of the female backup singer/dancer clad in a very Alicia Keys-like leather catsuit, but she sure was a ringer - it mutated and mutated until it became the Temptations' psychedelic-soul classic "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone." Duran Duran knows its stuff.
Then came "Rio," and approximately five exhilarating minutes later, everyone left Verizon with a cherry ice cream smile and a half. - Chris Gray
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The Valley/ Planet Earth/ Hungry Like the Wolf/ Nite-Runner/ Notorious/ I Don't Want Your Love/ Save a Prayer/ Red Carpet Massacre/ A View to a Kill/ Falling Down/ Come Undone/ Ordinary World/ Is There Something I Should Know/ The Reflex/ White Lines (Don't Do It)/ (Reach Up for the) Sunrise/ Wild Boys/ Girls on Film/ Rio