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Paul Mann: Duran Duran Brings Extravagant Concert to Nokia Theatre

The band puts the state-of-the-art facility to good use with a mix of old and new material

Duran Duran returned to Los Angeles last Wednesday for a triumphant concert at the new state-of-the-art Nokia Theatre in the heart of the luxurious downtown Live district.

The theater, across from the giant Staples Center arena, opened in 2007 and boasts a 7,100-seat, 40,000-square-foot venue with plush sloping seating that affords a perfect view from every row. Perfect climate control, massive video screens projecting crystal clear high-definition video and an army of politely trained staff ushering concertgoers into the venue with virtually no waiting are just a few of the reasons why this may be one of the most crowd-pleasing venues in Southern California.

An immense in-house sound system provides thundering bass to the far reaches of the theater, and the concessions area features an array of goodies, including a full bar. Outside, the theater is surrounded by the ever-expanding L.A. Live district. The 2,300-seat Nokia facility makes up the triumvirate of live performance venues, but the area also boasts an outside stage for periodic parties, television tapings and free concerts, and a vast array of some of the finest restaurants in Los Angeles.

There are upscale bars such as the Conga Room, massive new hotels such as the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott, a 14-screen movie theater, a Grammy museum and even a bowling alley. Surrounding structures are adorned with multishaped giant LED video screens, giving the whole area a surreal feeling much like downtown Las Vegas or Times Square. The setting provides an upscale entertainment package for a complete night out on the town.

Many concert patrons lingered in the outside complex, enjoying food and drink in themed restaurants, such as the kitschy Tiki room of Trader Vics, while the opening act Neon Trees took the stage to a largely empty house. From sucking on Trader Vics’ homemade rum Tiki drinks to watching the taping of a television show on the outside stage, with a sea of girls lined up shirtless in black bras, there were just too many distractions for most to catch the opening set. This was unfortunate for the Neon Trees, a Utah-based band with roots in Southern California, who had to play to a sparsely filled cavernous theater.

The band has been a successful staple on the festival circuit the past few years. They attracted a crowd of thousands in the sweltering heat of this year’s massive Bonnaroo festival and were a crowd-pleaser at last summer’s Sunset Strip Music Festival.

Even though the Nokia show started to a mostly empty house, the band made the most of it fronted by charismatic lead singer Tyler Glenn. The slightly geeky but lovable vocalist exhibited the energy of a spider monkey, rushing about the stage, dancing, contorting, cajoling the audience and telling anecdotes about his early days in California as an angst-ridden teenager. Often compared with The Killers, who they toured with in 2008, the band’s music is actually more experimental and adventurous than the retro pop hits of the chart-topping Killers.

Bass player Branden Campbell brings to mind Incubus bass player Ben Kenney, with a similar relentless, thundering style. Drummer Elaine Bradley plays the drums explosively, changing up the beat often and lends her own characteristic voice to the backing vocals. Guitar player Chris Allen rounds out the band with a wailing riff style well suited to the group. David Charles joins the band on tour to play rhythm guitar. Although an animated Glenn failed to get much response from the sparse crowd early on, he led the band in a spirited 40-minute set until finally garnering a big crowd reaction for the hit songs “Animal” and “1983.”

By the time Duran Duran arrived on stage shortly after 9 p.m., most of the large crowd had found their seats in the plush theater only to give them up for the duration of the show, standing from the first opening note to the final bow in the band’s encore. The spectacular show was a veritable feast of explosive music and a lighting and multimedia extravaganza.

The diverse crowd was made up of many fans old enough to remember the group in the heyday of MTV when it was actually just a music video channel, and many more new “Duranies” who weren’t even born when the band began their meteoric rise to stardom. The band was one of the most successful groups in the 1980s, largely because of their elaborate videos as well as their timeless sound. Judging by the audience reaction to the band’s old and new material, most in the crowd considered themselves true fans of the band, dancing, clapping and singing the chorus along to many of the masterful lyrics.

The band played a mix of material split between their huge library of classics and a lot of songs from their new album, All You Need Is Now. This latest release by the band, who have sold more than 100 million albums in their career, has been well received by critics and fans alike. The newest material harkens back to the classic Duran Duran material of the 1980s but also includes elements of the experimental electronic sound that has characterized more recent albums.

The sound is largely influenced by founding keyboardist extraordinaire Nick Rhodes, with his immense talents as a music producer. He looked like an iconic rock star on the giant video screens in the Nokia, in his psychedelic leopard print coat with ruffled sleeves.

As each of the five members appeared on the jumbo screens, women in the audience young and old would scream like they were at a 1960s Beatles concert. Lead singer Simon Le Bon, also lavishly dressed, seemed happily content throughout the evening, bantering playfully with the crowd. Early on he joked about not being able to read the setlist without his glasses. His self-effacing satirical English humor, displayed all throughout the night, endeared the singer to the crowd.

The ladies also screamed for original members Roger Taylor on drums and John Taylor on bass. The four veterans of the band were joined by two competent female backup singers and a saxophone player to highlight key songs such as the famous riff in “Rio.”

Aside from the massive in-house jumbo video screens, the stage featured its own array of LED video panels that created a compelling multimedia background synchronized with each song. The videos featured everything from highlights of classic old films such as Battleship Potemkin and Metropolis to abstract artistic pulsating color panels. The huge lighting trusses were mechanized to move and breathe with each new song, creating endless lighting scenarios backed by the latest LED effects.

Towering above the stage stood four large, translucent 3-D heads. During several songs, the heads would light up with synchronized animation of the band members’ faces, bringing to mind a more primitive, creepy version in the old haunted mansion in Disney World. The sound system in the Nokia Theatre is truly spectacular, sending crystal clear lyrics as well as thundering bass to the very back of the venue. The band even tapped into Twitter technology, posting a giant, live Twitter board where fans could Twitter directly to @duranlive.

While Le Bon took a break in the middle of the show, John Taylor led the rest of the band in a spirited instrumental version of “Tiger Tiger” and reminded the crowd to keep tweeting. As the tweets accelerated, one in particular drew cheers from the crowd when it lit up the screen larger than life: “Play that f****** bass John,” and he did.

The band played three encores, including an extended medley of “Wild Boys” blended with a cover of the classic Frankie Goes to Hollywood tune “Relax.” The band took their final bows nearly two hours after the show began, to a standing ovation that really had never ended from the moment the band stepped on the stage.

Duran Duran is alive and well, and Duranies in Los Angels couldn’t be happier about it.


Before the Rain
Planet Earth
All You Need Is Now
A View to a Kill
Blame the Machines
Come Undone
The Reflex
Girl Panic!
Tiger Tiger
Careless Memories
Leave a Light On
The Man Who Stole a Leopard
Hungry Like the Wolf


Ordinary World
Wild Boys / Relax

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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