Fans are still hungry for Duran Duran

Reunion tour draws new generation, longtime fans

Music: In Concert, CDs

April 07, 2005|By Susan Carpenter | By Susan Carpenter,Los Angeles Times

Much has happened in the years since Duran Duran ushered in the '80s and the so-called new romantic era with the group's pretty-boy dance rock. Since conquering the world with its breakthrough hit "Planet Earth," the group and its synthetic sound have been successively replaced by hair metal, grunge and hip-hop.

Yet throughout it all, one thing's remained the same: the group's die-hard devotees, or Duranies. A bona fide phenom circa 1982, Duraniacs, as they were then called, aren't as demonstrative today as they were when they blasted cassettes of "Girls on Film" from their boom boxes, dancing along in sleeveless concert T-shirts. But if the screaming, dancing masses showing up for their recently launched North American reunion shows are any indication, Duranies haven't disappeared. In fact, they're multiplying.

Bolstered by '80s revivalism and an album that reunited the original band members for the first time in 15 years, Duranies now include not only fans who owned first-release copies of Rio but also their spawn and newbies who know the group through Astronaut, the record Duran Duran released in October.

"The one thing I would have thought would calm a little is the decibel level before we go on," said keyboardist Nick Rhodes, who, at 42, is still an imitation blond. "We knew we would probably attract a partially younger audience, but we figured there would also be a lot of people who'd stuck with us. It's a really, really mixed audience. When you get them all together, they make as much noise as they ever did and seem crazier than ever."

One such fan, 37-year-old Jenny Chicouris, is a Florida mom who saw all three Duran Duran shows in her home state and plans to see eight more on the reunion tour. "It's like a good movie. You watch the same movie over and over again, and you always catch something different," she says. "It's always a thrill to catch a song they might not have played at a previous show."

Twenty-seven years since forming the group with English schoolmate John Taylor, Rhodes isn't quite the heartthrob he was when Duran Duran posters doubled as wallpaper in the bedrooms of countless teens. But he, Taylor and their bandmates -- singer Simon LeBon, guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor -- still look pretty great.

It's their sound that belies their age. On Astronaut, LeBon's voice is as clear, charismatic and sexy as ever. Most of the music behind him, however, is middle-of-the-road dance fodder, a far cry from songs such as "Hungry Like the Wolf" that made the group a household name. While tracks like "Want You More" and "Taste the Summer" recapture some of the group's early energy, they're no "Reflex."

The new album is proving to be a world away from the hit machines of the group's '81 debut and '82 follow-up Rio. The two singles from the new album -- "Sunrise" and "What Happens Tomorrow" -- have cracked the Top 40, but not the Top 10. The songs from Astronaut are getting so little airplay that if you log on to the Duran Duran Web site, there's a list of the radio stations that are playing the band.

In some ways, it doesn't seem to matter. As its current tour is proving, Duran Duran's appeal transcends radio.

"Once you've survived 25 years and built up the name, you always know there's an audience. And whilst you want every song to be a huge hit, if the radio station is stupid enough not to play it, it doesn't matter," Rhodes said. "We've reached a point where we've all relaxed a bit. When you're really young and in a band, it's rife with anxiety because you don't know how long it's going to be around, if there's going to be another hit, whether young people will still find you fashionable."

Duran Duran was almost too fashionable for its own good. Thanks to MTV, its androgynous good looks were beamed worldwide, influencing kids to not only crank the volume but also gel their hair and bust out the eyeliner.

After three smash records, Andy and John Taylor detoured in 1985 to "Bang a Gong" with Robert Palmer's Power Station. After Roger and Andy Taylor left the band a year later, Rhodes, LeBon and John Taylor kept it going into the '90s, but they were never able to reclaim the group's initial sound or popularity.

"People had been asking us for the 15 years we had been apart, 'When are you going to put the band back together?' We'd all been working on other things," Rhodes said. "Suddenly in 2000, we found ourselves young, free and single again. We all felt that it had reached a point where we'd been through other ideas, worked with other people and realized that this particular band, this lineup, had an extraordinary chemistry together."

A lot of people were waving money at them to tour, he said. But they didn't bite. Instead, they rented a house in France and holed up to see if they could still make music together.

"It was only after that that we looked at each other and said, 'This will work,'" said Rhodes, who, with the group, financed the album without the help of a record label.

Fans of the group's new songs and of the old should enjoy the latest tour. It's a two-hour mix of new and old and "a few real surprises for the die-hard fans," Rhodes said. "We don't like turning people away feeling they haven't heard what they want. We base our show on euphoria. We want people to leave on a high."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Duran Duran plays the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., tomorrow night at 8. Tickets are $42.50-$85 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

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