Toronto, Ontario – Strutting onstage in unison, the five founding members of Duran Duran – on their first major arena tour since reforming in 2001 – looked suspiciously like an aged version of the Backstreet Boys. Thankfully, the opening chords of “Reach Up For The Sunrise” from their 2004 release Astronaut announced that this would be a genuine rock concert and that the only onstage dancing would come in the form of singer Simon LeBon’s spastic, Elaine Benes-like gyrations. The guy may have presence, but he’s got no rhythm whatsoever.
It didn’t make a difference, though. “Hello, Toronto,” LeBon cooed at his devoted audience after the first number. “Is anybody hungry?” he asked, as he and bassist John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor, keyboard player Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor crashed into “Hungry Like The Wolf.” The crowd answered his question with delirious, ear-splitting squeals. Forget hungry – the soccer moms in attendance were like a horny ant colony.
The fans were so faithful that a bad sound mix and a heavy emphasis on newer material in the first hour did little to dampen enthusiasm. The band wisely took advantage of this unconditional adulation to make a convincing case for the tepidly-received Astronaut. The title track from that album, for example, spawned almost as much crowd karaoke as the sublime “Come Undone,” one of the finer examples of Duran Duran’s underrated mid-career output.
In the end, though, the band delivered exactly what people had come for – the second half of the show was comprised of hit after hit after hit, with the crowd going absolutely apeshit over songs like “The Reflex,” “Notorious” and “Wild Boys.” What was surprising is that Duran Duran seemed to be equally energized. In contrast to other long-in-the-tooth bands who abhor their classic tunes, LeBon, Rhodes and the Taylors seem to have fallen in love with their back catalogue all over again. As the show progressed, the group got tighter and LeBon’s voice gained strength – he even let loose with a spontaneous “I still have it” fist-pump after hitting the final high note on “Ordinary World.”
Meanwhile, John and Andy were having a blast and proved to be much more accomplished musicians than they’re typically given credit for. Andy’s performance was especially impressive, as the diminutive axeman shifted from chunky rockers to white-soul wah-wahs with effortless dexterity. But Duran Duran is still Simon LeBon’s band and the frontman did not disappoint, his voice easily reaching the arena’s back rafters and his sexually ambiguous posing inspiring lust in both boys and girls. And you gotta hand it to any 46 year old who can pull off a Karate Kid scissor kick.
By the time they closed with the tried-and-true “Rio,” Duran Duran had fully justified the loyalty of their fans. Whether this tour turns out to be a true comeback or a last hurrah, they look ready to soak up every last minute it.