On the Beat

Duran Duran-mania in Durham

Duran Duran in concert at DPAC in Durham, NC, Monday night, March 28, 2016.
Duran Duran in concert at DPAC in Durham, NC, Monday night, March 28, 2016. ssharpe@newsobserver.com

You might think you know loud. Until you’ve been in a crowded theater, however, listening to several thousand people howling for a Duran Duran encore – a crowd that has yet to hear “Rio,” no less – then no, you’ve not heard loud.

That was Monday night at Durham Performing Arts Center, where the venerable English new-wave band played to an adoringly vocal throng. Duran Duran’s crowd was a fraction of the size audience Garth Brooks played for at Raleigh’s PNC Arena a few weeks back, but I’d almost bet this crowd was even louder. It was certainly more fervent, in a feverishly longing kind of way.

Truly, Duran Duran’s enduring popularity is a curious phenomenon, especially among female fans. Duran Duran was so much a product of its original early-1980s moment that it was hard to imagine the group outlasting that initial burst. And yet 33 years after Duran Duran first cracked the U.S. top-10, long past contemporaries like A Flock of Seagulls or George Michael, they’ve still got the juice to draw a near-sellout crowd to DPAC on a Monday night.

Even though about one-third of the 18-song set consisted of new material, Duran Duran’s performance felt like a homage to the early MTV era (you know, back when the Music Television Network actually played music). A lot of the video-screen visuals evoked 1980s-vintage video games, and I half-expected them to break out the old MTV theme-song riff.

The video screens showed some of the new videos from Duran Duran’s 2015 album “Paper Gods,” which in style and tone wouldn’t have looked out of place on MTV circa 1986. The screens did not, however, show any of the original ’80s-vintage Duran Duran videos, probably because the contrast between then and now would have been just too much.

Four of Duran Duran’s five original members are still on board nowadays – everyone except guitarist Andy Taylor, ably replaced by longtime sideman Dom Brown — including frontman Simon Le Bon, whose initial appearance onstage caused the first of many deafening crescendos of distaff shrieking. The group played solid versions of the very rhythmic “Paper Gods” material, and that went over fine with the audience.

But whenever they dipped into the back catalog, the temperature in the room shot up perceptibly. “Anybody hungry?” Le Bon quipped a couple of songs in, and it was absolute bedlam when they fired up “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

“A View to a Kill,” “Notorious,” “New Moon on Monday,” “Save a Prayer” – the hits just kept on coming, and the band didn’t even get to all of them. “The Reflex,” “Is There Something I Should Know” and “Union of the Snake,” top-10 hits all, went missing, but nobody seemed to mind.

One of the lesser old Duran Duran songs, “Planet Earth,” made for a nice tribute to the late great David Bowie when they paired it with “Space Oddity” as a medley. Le Bon earned some credit for unpretentiousness, too, when he stopped a shaky version of “I Don’t Want Your Love” just a few seconds in because, he admitted, he was singing the wrong note.

Finally came the encore’s obligatory conclusion with “Rio,” title-track hit to the group’s 1982 breakthrough album, and it caused waves upon waves of delirium. Duran Duran, heritage act – who would have ever thought it?

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi

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