CLEARWATER — Delusion is a popular tonic for the aging rock star. Faded icons routinely dream of relevance long after budget-bin realities have set in. It's not easy forgetting the view from the top, especially when you're driving a Hyundai around at the bottom.
Despite their 30-plus years on the scene, not all of them robust, the still-pretty Brit dandies in Duran Duran believe they still matter, too. But in their case, that's not delusion talking. The Birmingham boys are absolutely right.
And at a sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall on Monday, the band's glam-pop swagger and cocksure pomp resounded with vital thrust. No Hyundais for DD; singer Simon Le Bon, bassist John Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor and wee synth pixie Nick Rhodes still cruise in style.
Even before the hunky, funky Brits bounded onstage for their near-two-hour set, the crowd of 2,180 Durannies — young, old, flailing women, frothing women — was reminded of DD's continued influence. Opening act Neon Trees, exceptionally coiffed kids from Utah, rode the new wave as best they could. It's no coincidence their big hit is called Animal; Duran Duran has been famously wrangling sexy wild things in song for decades.
Heck, the best cut on DD's fine new album, All You Need Is Now, features another ferocious feline to match Hungry Like the Wolf: the pulsating The Man Who Stole a Leopard, as good as anything they've done and hypnotizing in concert. The new stuff was produced by hot knob-twiddler Mark Ronson, who doesn't touch anything unless it reeks of hip. The union between young and old has produced marvels: In a live setting, the new album's title cut featured an industrial-strength thrust that made the throngs sweat that much harder.
I've seen DD a few times over the years, but they've never been this playful. Le Bon can be a dour leading man, but here he joked about shooting saltwater out of his schnoz and name-checked Dunedin and Tarpon Springs as if he were running for governor. And if the set list was fat with new stuff, so be it. Most of it was great (okay, Blame the Machines is a dorky misfire), plus the fresh material gave the hits (Planet Earth, Rio) a renewed polish.
A View to a Kill is still one of the best Bond songs, and The Reflex, which was extended to sing-along heights, would have made for an even better Bond song. Guitarist Andy Taylor long since left the band, but DD now tours with exceptional backing musicians, including tremendous wailer Anna Ross, who traded innuendo and slinky heat with a game Le Bon.
The stage was sleek, complete with four 3D masks hovering over the stage that illuminated all manner of visual trickery. But for all the GQ touches, the key to Duran Duran's longevity is that the 50-something guys have traded in the arched-eyebrow aloofness of their youth for a more natural, mature approach. 1981 fan fave Careless Memories rocked harder than ever because Duran Duran — the George Clooney of '80s bands — isn't afraid to get dirty anymore. And that, as women will lustily scream at you, just makes them that much sexier.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.