Ultra Day 1: Duran Duran and Erasure, March 25

Duran Duran and Erasure
Ultra Music Festival
Bicentennial Park, Miami
Friday, March 25, 2011

Better than: '80s night at an Irish pub.

In another time and place, seeing Duran Duran and Erasure grace the same stage back to back would be magical. On this evening, which comes following nearly six combined decades between the two acts, things were still passably good.

Erasure's Andy Bell is looking so muscular these days that he could probably squash your head like a grapefruit, but he would never, ever do that. Dressed in a Sex Pistols tank that let his pythons breathe, Bell worked the front of Ultra's main stage with a lot of high-kicking, strutting and vivacious gliding like a dove in front of a pair of backup singers in red polka-dot dresses.

Ultra Day 1: Duran Duran and Erasure, March 25
Photo by Ian Witlen

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A lot of people cleared out once they realized that the featured act for the moment wasn't going to feature buildups and breakdowns of the subwoofer variety, but rather those of the tortured synthpop soul. "A Little Respect" provided the perfect early lubrication for the remaining throngs, which featured a surprising amount of Ultra-goers who were born long after that 1988 hit's prominence.

Aside from donning an impeccable red suit, Vince Clarke, one of the defining men in the '80s synth revolution with time spent with Yazoo, Depeche Mode, and the Assembly, was fairly tame during the set. His two modes seemed to be pushing a few buttons on his Mac laptop, and strumming an acoustic guitar that was for the most part undercut by the burps of synthesizers. "Stop!" is an undeniable jam, and like all of the classics unfurled on this night, Bell's voice was ready to deliver them.

"We supply the music, you supply the action," was the way Duran Duran's Simon LeBon began Duran Duran's set. For a group that's been in and out of the pop stratosphere since 1978, there's the expectation that they could actually provide both, but oh well. LeBon's semi-credible beard and combed coif gave him the look of The Office-era Ricky Gervais, and his stiff dance moves in an all-black suit and sequined shirt didn't betray that comparison, unfortunately. In spite of LeBon's slight thickening and decomposition, it should be noted that white-haired keyboardist Nick Rhodes looks like he hasn't aged a day since 1984.

Ultra Day 1: Duran Duran and Erasure, March 25
Photo by Ian Witlen

"A View to a Kill" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" got things up and running in a hurry, and it was immediately clear that the added darkness and intoxication of the crowd would make up for any lack of fireworks onstage. "Notorious" was a funkier injection than a new track called "All You Need is Now" -- although Duran Duran seems to need more "then" than anything else.

Each song was played with a level of professionalism, with bassist John Taylor strutting the stage, and every note in the right place. But by the time the guys got to their "encore" and walked offstage for about ten seconds, it just felt like this is the exact same performance the guys give on any other night. And perhaps for an older crowd than the juice-bags with their girls on their shoulders, that would probably elicit more of a response. "Ordinary World" is one of the finest Duran Duran songs (no "Come Undone," unfortunately) ever recorded, but it was too straight-faced for a stumbling audience ready for more thudding bass. A lengthy, jam-filled version of "Girls on Film" closed things out, and though it was kind of fun, everyone was glad when it was over.

Critic's Notebook

Random detail: Loads of cheap weed was burning near my vantage point.

The crowd: The guy with "Ultra" shaved into the back of his head, a few actual fans of Duran Duran who could sing along with every song, one apeshit Erasure fan who could not control his body during their set, and lots of bros wearing NBA jerseys high-fiving each other.

Overheard: "I think I'd be going crazier for Depeche Mode."

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