When Duran Duran came to Detroit in 1984, the only girl I knew who got to go to the sold-out arena show was my best friend Linda's cousin Anne, who scored tickets because she lived around the block from a record store. The rest of us had to be content with playing "Rio" really loud on the stereo of my dad's mammoth Oldsmobile 98 in the parking lot at the mall and dancing on the wide burgundy hood like the models who cavort on the prow of that yacht in the music video. Miles away from "the Rio Grande," that was as close as we could get to "dancing on the sand." More than fifteen years later, at Level nightclub last Thursday, my adolescent dream of getting up close and personal with lead singer Simon LeBon finally came true -- well, sort of.
While Level is by no means a stadium, the cavernous main room was filled to capacity for the Greatest Hits Tour. More than 2000 leather-clad club kids stood between me and the aging trio remaining from the original band. "This was one of the most successful concerts I've ever done," said Level's owner Gerry Kelly the following day, reviewing the VIP attendance that included Boy George and Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. "It was a real A crowd," he crowed. "Every single table was sold, and the champagne was flowing." An old friend of LeBon's wife, former supermodel Yasmin, the delighted host attributes the glitterati turnout to Duran Duran's status as icons of opulent times. "I believe Duran Duran are a legend in their own right. They were fashion gurus and fashion leaders in the Eighties," he observes. "I saw every single model agency in Miami Beach there." Evidence of the Beach's appreciation of Duran Duran's brand of Eighties excess, the loudest screams of the night greeted the descent from the rafters of a white half man-in-the-moon snorting from a coke spoon, with a line of lights running up his nose during the band's cover of the rap classic "White Lines."
LeBon himself has toned down his haute-hit look, swapping the mountains of hair mousse and heavy makeup for a simple layered helmet cut and an off-white windbreaker with khaki pants. Keyboardist Nick Rhodes still looked "Hungry Like the Wolf," however, with sunset-hued eye shadow and a cockatiel hairdo. Missing, alas, were the Taylors: John, Roger, and Andy. A beefy Warren Cuccurullo stood up front next to LeBon, his arms rippling out of a black-net muscle T to strike a distorted chord on guitar now and again. Barely glimpsed behind the labyrinth of keyboards stood the new young bass player, his face childlike and innocent despite the leather bands around his wrists. Like the bassist, the majority of the audience members looked to be in their mid-twenties, young hipsters drawn by the name barely remembered from their earliest childhood as representing all that was cool to the big kids. And now, of course, all that was cool then is even cooler now: It's kitsch.
Not that LeBon is aware that he is kitsch. And he certainly hasn't forgotten how to act like a diva. The neglected idol could not resist trying to recreate some of the old superceleb drama before the show even began. Doubtless representative of many in Miami's media, I had not been overly anxious to see the old star, however fabulous his former fire -- but then the publicist offered free tickets and an interview at the Delano right before the show, so why not? Turns out the folks at Deco Drive and a show called The Scoop thought the same. There we all were in the lobby of the posh hotel at the appointed time, waiting for word on the room number from a couple of guys named Marc and Dave. Instead a yippy Delano employee in a blazer blocked the way to the elevator, complaining, "I don't know why you guys are here. The interviews are at Level." Marc and Dave came down to disperse the bewildered media.
When I approached Marc or Dave (or was it LeBon? He had the same helmet haircut) in the lobby, a panicked Delano manager swept between us, yelping, "Don't approach my guest!" Perhaps frightened by my vintage faux-leopard-skin car coat, he squealed: "Security! Security!" A butch lad in a white sweatshirt tailed me out front and listened to my cell-phone conversation with the publicist, who assured me that the interview had been approved by both the hotel and LeBon himself earlier in the day. It was a setup. "He thinks it's still the Eighties," the publicist griped, "and that he still has number one hits." The paparazzi might not be camping out to get a peek at LeBon anymore, but with some careful planning, he can still have the pleasure of blowing off a tiny knot of reporters with nothing better to do.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. As I chased haplessly after the ghost of power pop, a more substantial messenger for the blues hit me from behind. Literally. On our way to the Duran Duran concert, a big white van rear-ended my companion's car at the corner of Twelfth and Washington, right in front of Level. If LeBon manufactured his own media frenzy at the Delano, this little fender-bender jammed up the block for about twenty minutes, making the Duran Duran show look as exciting as, say, a Ricky Martin autograph signing. As fate would have it, the man driving the van turned out to be none other than local blues hound Ken "Snowman" Minahan, a man of considerable girth with a long white ponytail. While the police filled out the accident report, the guitarist seized the opportunity to complain about New Times's sad lack of coverage of his musical calling. "It's so hard to get anything going," he lamented. "We're down here at the ends of the Earth." Along with his insurance card, he handed over a copy of his latest CD, He Calls Me Miss Good 'n' Plenty by Sheba & the Rhythm Kings. Looking up at Level's marquee, the bluesman's sidekick remarked: "Duran Duran. Hard to believe they're still around."
Pop fizzles fast but the blues will never fade. Just ask Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, who has been picking and moaning for at least twice as long as Duran Duran has been on the scene. The Mississippi-born veteran marks the 50th anniversary of his move up north to the fertile blues scene of postwar Chicago with a new release, Reservation Blues, and a concert this weekend at Tobacco Road. If LeBon represents the glamour of an era past, Clearwater has kept the blues going on for a half-century. As gritty and hardcore as the British popsters are smooth and soft, Clearwater won't open with "Girls on Film," but he surely will deliver a roof-raisin' set of shuffles, wails, and grooves.
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