MONDAY, MARCH 28
DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, DURHAM
8 P.M., $70-$255
At its best, Duran Duran specialized in maximizing new wave’s already-present excessescalmly displayed extravagance, creeping technological paranoia, keepsake love songs.
Simon Le Bon forced vowels into elaborate calisthenics, his “eeeuhhhs” and “owww-uhhs” becoming one of the MTV era’s most signature vocal tics. They made even his most inscrutable lyrics worthy of sing-alongs. Nick Rhodes’s keyboard lines could be sumptuous or spiky. And John Taylor remains one of pop music’s most underrated bassists. The pogoing energy of “The Reflex” was only amplified when Chic’s Nile Rodgers reworked it in a way that lopped off a minute and electrified Taylor’s strident low-end strut. Duran Duran’s MTV-based fame led to the band’s lightweight reputation, but holding the big hits up to closer scrutiny reveals a band that often had a canny idea of where pop was going.
Unfortunately, Paper Gods, the band’s 2015 album, too often falls victim to the specter of EDM, rendering the tools wielded by Rhodes and Taylor (and, when guest vocalists take over, Le Bon, too) not just ineffective but absent. In a way, it’s understandable: Duran Duran is now in its third decade, and simply rehashing the oldies approach seems artistically dissatisfying. The best moments come when Duran Duran reaches the intersection of the new and old. “Pressure Off” features Janelle Monáe and Rodgers, and places Taylor’s nimble bass playing near the front. The taut motivational anthem “Butterfly Girl” adds zip-lining synth and squealing guitar to funk-pop splendor. This live go-round will feature not just those tracks, but Duran Duran’s hidden-in-plain-sight pop weaponry, too. With Shamir.