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Duran Duran Remind Us Why '80s Music Deserves More Respect

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DURAN DURAN LE BON
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The late, lamented Vancouver nightclub Luv-A-Fair launched its signature '80s night pretty much the first Tuesday of 1990. Effectively, it just meant was that gritty warehouse club would continue playing the new wave "Retro Klassix" they'd built their reputation on.

But it was also a cheeky flag-planting for a decade and genre that never got the musical respect it deserved.

Unlike the Boomer-backed rock and folk scenes of the 1960s and 1970s, or the alternative '90s return to guitar-based authenticity, 1980s new wave has always been seen as style over substance, superficial synthpop that pales next to the (correctly spelled) classics that came before and after.

It was considered by music critics and other rockist cultural gatekeepers to be as fluffy as a Valley girl's feathered hair.

For those of us who were kids in the '80s, who had no preconceived notions that rock was supposed to be better than pop or that dance music shouldn't be taken seriously or even that being on the cover of "Tiger Beat" killed your credibility, the music was just really good.

Some of that had to do with the heavy use of synthesizers in the wake of the "disco sucks" movement. Some had to do with the concurrent rise of MTV, which the boomers denigrated because "real" music didn't have pictures (except, I guess, all those Beatles movies but whatevs) and what was with all those quick edits anyway? Think of the children and their attention-spans! (Note: MTV used to play music videos.)

For those of us who were kids in the '80s, who had no preconceived notions that rock was supposed to be better than pop or that dance music shouldn't be taken seriously or even that being on the cover of "Tiger Beat" killed your credibility, the music was just really good.

And Duran Duran's summer tour is a reminder of why.

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Duran Duran through the years
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I was only six-years-old when the British band's self-titled debut came out in 1981, but I had an older sister and at that age an older sibling's musical taste *is* your musical taste. I remember playing the vinyl on my parents' record player, and getting her the subsequent albums, "Rio" and "Seven and the Ragged Tiger," as birthday gifts.

Duran Duran was the first non-kids music that I loved -- and I was not alone. They launched a second British invasion by sending their poppier New Romantic subgenre of new wave surging up the charts, eventually selling 70 million albums and clocking 21 hit singles.

So there was no way I was going to miss their current tour, even if these sorts of things are supposed to be guaranteed let-downs because how could they possibly live up to your memories?

Well, at 57, Simon Le Bon's voice is still incredibly strong, carrying notes longer and higher than one could have hoped. He's as much an underrated vocalist as Duran Duran is an underrated band.

1980s new wave has always been seen as style over substance, superficial synthpop that pales next to the... classics that came before and after.

Le Bon also has such a unique tone that even when they opened with the title track off last year's album "Paper Gods," and returned to it later for "Pressure Off" and "Last Night in the City," the lesser known new songs fit in perfectly with their classic material.

Actually, the new album, their 14th, is pretty great. It was partly produced by Mark Ronson, fresh off of "Uptown Funk," and Nile Rodgers, who Le Bon reminded us onstage produced "The Reflex" way back in 1983 and whose band Chic was the opening act.

Still, the capacity crowd at Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre was there to hear the hits from their youth, and the band delivered them in droves throughout their 19-song set.

Nick Rhodes recently had to return to England unexpectedly to deal with a family emergency (sorry, ladies), pretty boy John Taylor was still on bass and a bored looking Roger Taylor was on drums. (Andy Taylor's not part of the reunited line-up.)

But it's the singles, and Le Bon's singular voice, that all us olds came to singalong to and the sense-memory nostalgia rush came fast and furious. Duran Duran ran from the industrial crunch of "Wild Boys" and blue-eyed funk of "Notorious" to brilliant Bond theme "A View To A Kill" and '90s comeback tracks "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone" to a "Planet Earth" that incorporated David Bowie's "Space Oddity," a torch-waving take on "New Moon on Monday" and an encore of fan-favourite "Save a Prayer" paired with their radio smash "Rio."

When performed all together, what stands out about Duran Duran's back catalogue was that it wasn't an iteration of Boomer music. It was genuinely new.

Critics of the time dismissed them as pop lightweights that succeeded on the strength of music videos and pin-up looks. But while their genre defined its moment in time, Duran Duran's songs are so well written and ultimately influential to the electronic pop of our current era, that they now sound old but not dated.

That's why those of us in the crowd, who are also old but not dated, are still so eager to dance into the fire.

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