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ORANGE COUNTY POP MUSIC REVIEW : For Duran Duran, Good Ol’ Days Are Precious Indeed

Times Staff Writer

Besides inaugurating the outdoor concert season Friday on a temperate evening at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, Duran Duran got a jump on ‘80s nostalgia.

“Does anybody remember the ‘80s?” John Taylor, the band’s bassist, wondered during a pause. “They were some good years, weren’t they?”

Well, they were good for Duran Duran, anyway. The British band rose to immense teen-pop popularity in the first half of the decade. It then went on hiatus and lost a couple of members, but it’s still around on the eve of the ‘90s to wax nostalgic about it all.

But for anyone who values such qualities as conviction, depth and emotional honesty in music, Duran Duran, to put it mildly, does not represent the best of the decade. And with the ‘90s looming, Duran Duran’s concert didn’t give much indication that the group is about to find honesty and conviction--which have made a welcome late ‘80s comeback on the pop charts. (Who could have imagined 5 years ago that R.E.M. would one day be a hotter draw than the Duran boys?)

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In a decade when a good deal of our culture--from the White House on down--concentrated more on appearances than on realities, Duran Duran is a band that made a terrific appearance. Its members were handsome. They were dedicated followers of fashion. And they sold that image effectively on MTV in abstract, slickly alluring videos that have become models for so much marketing.

On stage at Irvine Meadows, Duran Duran was still selling the same stuff. In fact, the show looked like a live re-enactment of a couple of hours of music video.

Two scantily clad female backup singers did mechanical dance steps, like computer-age flappers. At one point, they did a striptease flashdance routine in silhouette, disrobing behind a lit screen. Can’t make a video without a little of that soft-core show of flesh, right?

There was a profligate, nearly continuous dispensation of stage smoke, of course, and elaborate lighting effects galore (one was exceptional: the spiral strands of blue-lit smoke that appeared during “Palomino,” swirling like the whorls in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”).

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Unfortunately, you can’t edit a concert the way you can a video, so Duran Duran--Taylor, singer Simon Le Bon and keyboards player Nick Rhodes from the original lineup, plus four other musicians--was stuck with its own generally uncompelling in-the-flesh presence.

Le Bon performed energetically, with dance aerobics moves, but his singing was less robust. His thin voice, often boosted by echo effects, was muffled during some of the more dense song arrangements, and his singing lost power in the lower end of his range.

If Duran Duran falls down on substance, it deserves some credit for style and proficiency.

Songs like “Notorious” and “Is There Something I Should Know?” came across as effective, hard-hitting dance numbers that motivated a crowd somewhat older than the very young teens who made up the core of Duran Duran’s following in the early ‘80s.

And no band could have as many hits as Duran has registered without a good knack for a catchy pop hook. For those who are satisfied with a good beat, something pleasant to look at and a tune to hum, this was an enjoyably escapist, well-staged show. (In about 2 hours, it covered most of the hits by Duran Duran and its one-shot, offshoot band, the Power Station, as well as a good chunk of the current “Big Thing” album.)

But intensity of feeling and force of expression still seem foreign to Duran Duran--and by singing a song called “Do You Believe in Shame?” that was a shameless rip-off of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Suzie Q,” the group didn’t score many points for originality, either.

Having the women disrobe may have made good sense by music video’s sex-sells standards, but it merely reinforced that, for this band, marketing outweighs meaning. The sequence came during a song, “Skin Trade,” that purports to sympathize with a strip-joint dancer while lamenting the need to sell oneself for the sake of money: “In exploitation’s name, we must be working for the Skin Trade.”

With this pimping stage enactment of the song, the group did all it could to exploit the very thing its lyrics question. But then again, why not? Pop music’s Skin Trade has been very good to Duran Duran.

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If the public ever gets wise to this sort of seduction by video image, the ‘90s promise to be some good years, too--although not necessarily for Duran Duran.

Band’s Managers Bar Photos

Duran Duran’s managers refused to allow The Times to take pictures of the band during its performance at Irvine Meadows unless The Times signed over all rights to the photographs. The paper declined.


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