“You’re going to Duran Duran?” my esteemed music critic friend said, appalled and yet also thrilled for the opportunity to mock me. “What are you hoping to hear? ‘The Reflex’? ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’?”
Um … well, actually … yes. And I wouldn’t mind “Planet Earth,” “Rio” and “New Moon on Monday” either. So there.
Last night, Duran Duran packed Stubb’s in Austin for a SXSW show that was billed as the launch of their new world tour. There is little you can write about this band that hasn’t already been said. But it’s worth pointing out their brand of New Romantic music, balancing pop synth and rock guitar into a global escapist sound that launched a slew of hits, captured a 1980s style that other wannabe retro acts have tried and failed to replicate ever since — including Duran Duran themselves. At least, until their latest and 13th studio album, All You Need is Now. It’s not quite “son of ‘Rio’” as some have billed it. When the new songs were played alongside the band’s classics early Thursday morning, they did not energize the crowd to nearly the same degree. But at least they didn’t sound out of place, either.
Simon Le Bon, sporting a beard, took to the stage with full dramatic gusto. For more than an hour, Duran Duran played through new songs like “Girl Panic!” and “Being Followed” while dusting off vintage tracks such as “A View to a Kill” and “The Chauffeur” (complete with Le Bon flute solo!).
When Le Bon concluded one song with a kung fu fist-pumping routine, a few in the crowd laughed and mocked the gesture. But the band — and this is what the haters don’t quite get — always had a large segment of detractors from the very start. They’re not the dated band that was popular then and silly now. Even when Duran Duran was huge, they were never considered cool — they were always a band that was tough to admit liking to your friends, and ironically, that’s part of what makes them cool today. Sure, Le Bon could act chill and aloof on stage, as if their ’80s persona is something to run from. And Duran Duran could try to be evolve their sound into something they’re not. But where would the fun be in that?