Last Saturday night, Duran Duran, the musical idols of my preteen years, kicked off the Bowl season with their first Santa Barbara appearance in five years. Although not technically a reunion show-the group have consistently produced new music and toured together since their rise to superstardom nearly three decades ago-it’s fair to say that the bulk of the exuberant, thirty- to forty-something crowd were there for a blast from the past. And despite the fact that they were touring to flog their latest release, 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre, the band didn’t disappoint, sprinkling new material among the crowd-pleasers that they were fully aware drove their ticket sales.
Duran Duran may be slightly longer in the tooth after nearly 30 years, but pop’s original glamour boys (minus guitarist Andy Taylor in its current incarnation) have retained their appeal. Simon Le Bon, whose emotive voice hasn’t changed a whit, was charismatically cocky, shaking his moneymaker, striking cheesy vogue poses, and surveying the screaming crowd with smug satisfaction. John Taylor showed off his bass chops for an audience who would still have worshiped him had he not played a single note. Nick Rhodes (his hair still a peroxide haystack) skillfully played keyboards with unflappable focus, while Roger Taylor kept characteristically mum while masterfully keeping the beats on his drum set.
After taking the stage with an invigorating sampling from Massacre, including “The Valley,” “Nite-Runner,” and the album’s title cut, the boys, recognizing that nostalgia was what this crowd was after, turned back the clock a few decades with pop masterpiece “Hungry Like the Wolf,” sending the audience into paroxysms of delight. Interspersed among Massacre‘s “Skin Divers” and “Falling Down,” the band played faithful renditions of Neo-Romantic anthem “Planet Earth,” “The Reflex,” “Girls on Film,” and a smooth, seductive rendition of “Come Undone.” The audience happily obliged John Taylor’s request to hold aloft their lit mobile phones-which he dubbed “this century’s cigarette lighter”-during the otherworldly “Save A Prayer.” After an energetic performance of “A View to a Kill,” roadies reconfigured the stage with a stand-up drum kit and scaled-down synthesizer consoles. The four original band members then returned onstage in matching black satin suits and the skinny ties of their heyday, launching into a clubby, techno medley of “Last Chance on the Stairway,” “All She Wants Is,” “Skin Trade,” and “I Don’t Want Your Love.”
And when they shine, they really show you all they can. After a vigorous version of “Wild Boys” and their obligatory retreat, the band returned for a jubilant encore of “Rio,” leaving the crowd satisfied with the thoroughly enjoyable flashback for which they’d come.