CulturePulp

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March 10, 2005: CulturePulp catches the Duran Duran reunion tour.

(unusually lengthy) ENDNOTES and DIGRESSIONS:

1. Grey-tones for this installment by Chad Essley.

2. The concert, BTW, was pretty bloody great. I'm no rock critic, but as Simon LeBon held us all lightly in the palm of his hand, it struck me that Duran Duran has completed whatever that weird pop-culture journey is where a band goes from cool to dated to reviled to kitschy-cool to just plain about the music.

The pyrotechnics and costumes were, for the most part, relatively minimal, putting the focus firmly on the music -- which was, frankly, better than I'd remembered. Andy Taylor's guitar, long missing from the DD lineup, really beefs up the band's sound; the tension between his Power Station shredding and Nick Rhodes' synthetic Warhol detachment was really fun to watch, especially on songs like "Notorious."

The band members -- who all sort of looked the same to me in their heyday -- have differentiated as they've aged. Simon is a bit puffier, Andy looks like a casualty of rock-star excess, Roger looks like an unusually handsome merchant marine, and John has abstracted into a "Buckaroo Banzai"-era Peter Weller. Nick, eerily, looks exactly the same -- a smirking Lucite Warhol.

I was a little surprised at how cheeky and free-swearing Simon was.

My inner geek absolutely loved the cartoon they projected on a giant screen behind the band during one song -- a hyperviolent "Kill Bill"-style anime in which a super-powered vampire-fantasy version of Duran Duran bloodily destroyed masked assassins, monsters, and the offices of a major record label named EMI (short for "Endangered Music Industry").

And finally, I must admit: I was kind of sad they didn't play "View to a Kill."

3. "Props" also to the opening act, Ima Robot. Again, I'm no rock critic, but it struck me that these noisy young lads had an unusually firm grasp on that whole Love & Rockets / Echo & The Bunnymen pastiche thing. The woman sitting next to me held her ears through much of their set.

4. This comic has online bonus material! While researching the band, I received a fantastic pocket survey of DD's career by die-hard fan Patrick Nachtigall. Pat's one of my oldest friends -- nowadays he lives in Hong Kong -- and he reviewed "Notorious" for my high-school paper circa 1986. Here's his passionate take on Duran Duran's evolution, which he e-mailed to me last week:

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"What Duran Duran is doing right now is very interesting. They have staged a long-awaited reunion with all of the original five members back in the band. With the huge base of Durannies out there, they thought it would be no problem to score a record deal. But in this era of illegal downloads, record companies aren't willing to support bands like they used to. History means nothing to record companies now -- they only want sure things. The industry is really closing.

"DD knocked on many record companies' doors and they were rejected time and time again. So eventually they launched their own little mini-tour on the East Coast -- and had a tremendous showing in places like Philadelphia and New York. They got a similar response in Britain. They then re-approached the record companies and said, 'Look, people want our stuff. We can play even bigger arenas.' So they finally scored a deal with Epic Records and their album 'Astronaut' came out to pretty good reviews.

"Now, I don't think 'Astronaut' has done as well as they had hoped. But the tour generates a lot of excitement wherever they go. So the big question is: What kind of tolerance does a record company have nowadays for a band with a big, loyal following that doesn't really produce radio hits or sell albums particularly well?

"I kind of think DD are the test case for how much patience record companies will have with artists past their prime. Is it just a Britney Spears / Ashlee Simpson world now?

"Here are some other Duran facts and observations, in no particular order:

"- The best comment I've ever heard about DD came from [our mutual high-school chum] Caleb Nelson, who said, 'Once Andy Taylor left the band (after the 'View to a Kill' single), DD stopped sounding like a band.' That's an excellent comment. It's true. No matter how synth-heavy they were on their first three albums and 'Arena' (the live album), DD always sounded like guys playing instruments. After 1985 (beginning with 'Notorious'), DD started to sound more like a studio- and synthesizer-based band.

"- The more they gravitated toward R & B and techno, the less succesful their music has been. "Notorious" was produced by Nile Rodgers, as was the latest album, 'Astronaut' (also producing is R&B producer Dallas Austin). The R&B sound always mutes the rock-band sound. At the concert, if they play 'Careless Memories,' or if you listen to 'Shadows on Your Side' off of '7 and the Ragged Tiger,' you'll hear a hard-rocking band. I'll bet they'll tear it up live on some of the old stuff like 'Rio' or 'Hungry Like the Wolf.' Those are good rock songs.

"- Duran Duran are named after the villain in the movie 'Barbarella.' John liked the name because his mother said it sounded stupid. He thought, 'Oh, then it must be good.'

"- DD came out of the 'New Romantics' period of British New Wave along with Spandau Ballet. How pretentious.

"- Simon LeBon is often called 'Simon LeBlob'  in the British press for his propensity to gain weight (he was looking blobbish before the tour started).

"- They've been very cool about their comeback. They realize that they are playing mostly to women in their 30s and 40s who are now moms. They're not under the impression that they are super-contemporary studs like that ponce Jon Bon Jovi.

"- Supposedly Roger Taylor (the drummer) left the band because of a nervous breakdown. It seems that he just couldn't handle the limelight and pressure of the celebrity life. He's just a nice, simple English lad.

"- It's important to remember that DD were not a boy band. They were a rock band, and they generated an enthusiasm that really hadn't been seen since The Beatles. 'Durandemonium' is viewed as a pretty unique thing. Both men and women loved DD and dressed like them -- unlike a lot of the recent pop stars of late (like the Backstreet Boys, n'Sync, or Ricky Martin). DD crossed demographic lines in a way these newer acts didn't.

"- As you know, their videos with Russell Mulcahy (particularly those filmed in Sri Lanka and Antigua) are classics, yet they never won an MTV award until a year ago -- when they won the 'Lifetime Achievement Award' (by default, I think, because the real winner, Johnny Cash, died or something).

"- There can be no doubt that Duran Duran reached their lowest point when they recorded 'Thank You,'  an album in which they covered songs by Lou Reed, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Elvis Costello and, worst of all, Public Enemy's '911 is a Joke' and Grandmaster Flash's 'White Lines.' Simon LeBon rapping Flava Flav's lines on '911' is really humiliating to listen to. At the time, they had Warren Cuccurullo in their lineup -- a horrible addition to the band who never fit in. He left once they released their album 'Pop Trash' in 2000. At that point, it was just Simon and Nick. The band was probably finished if this reunion hadn't taken place.

"Overall, I think they are the biggest of the has-been bands of the 1980s (U2 survived the '80s) -- so they remain significant for anyone born between 1963 and 1975. They are our Gen-X Beatles. Yes, that's all we could manage. But they were five unique personalities who made the '80s for a lot of us.

"Wish I could go too. I still love Simon. - prn"

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Lettering too small? Download a high-rez PDF of CulturePulp 024 right here: CulturePulp24.pdf

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Mike Russell is a film writer and cartoonist living in Portland, OR. ... full profile