by Mike Corrigan and Leah Sottile

Don't blame it on Barbarella, the 1968 psychedelic sci-fi romp starring the then-curvaceous Jane Fonda. While it's true that British school chums Nick Rhodes and John Taylor lifted the name of the band they formed in 1978 from a character in that film, all glory and honor -- no matter how fleeting -- is due Duran Duran, the band that made it OK for guys to wear ice cream-colored linen suits with matching headbands while swaying to disco beats.

Duran Duran's incredible popularity in the '80s was more the happy result of good timing, good looks and flashy music videos than a consequence of their music's overwhelming quality. The Duran Duran sound, after all, was just a hybrid of dance rhythms, synthesizer swoosh and rock guitar. But that sound definitely had something to do with their success, as anyone who ever had "Rio," "Hungry Like the Wolf" or "Girls on Film" stuck in their heads for a week solid can attest. Why bring all this up now? Well, in case you haven't heard, the reconstituted Duran Duran, sporting the classic lineup, will be making a stop at the Opera House this Saturday night as part of its 2005 Astronaut tour.

The group's emergence from Britain's new romantic movement (typified by bands like Ultravox and Spandau Ballet) neatly coincided with the dawn of the MTV era -- and Duran Duran exploited the new medium for all it was worth. Glammed up like Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry but energized by punk's influence, the band went to work on a string of hit singles marked by tuneful arrangements and catchy lyrics accompanied by music videos of surprising sophistication and visual panache. Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Simon LeBon, Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor became almost overnight sensations on both sides of the Atlantic, evolving quickly from artsy fops into a pop unit with actual bite.

Rio was the group's commercial breakthrough and arguably its creative high water mark. The singles "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Save a Prayer" and the title track were accompanied by sexy, stylish music videos that -- if memory serves -- were in near-constant rotation on MTV. Still, it was mostly a case of style over substance, as was evidenced by the band's Rio follow-up, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, a hopelessly over-produced and underdeveloped album that nevertheless yielded its fair share of hits ("The Reflex," "Union of the Snake," "New Moon on Monday").

And just as quickly as it had had rocketed to stardom, the group began to implode and fragment, starting with a 1985 hiatus. During the break, Andy and John Taylor left to form the Power Station with vocalist Robert Palmer. Meanwhile, Rhodes, LeBon and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia. While each had minor successes, neither band was able to replicate the Duran magic. A decade of half-hearted reunions and a handful of forgettable recordings followed -- all met with deafening ambivalence by Duran's former fans.

Rumors of a proper reunion began circulating in the summer of 2001 after three of the members (all those darn Taylors) got together in Wales for a month's worth of informal sessions. Rhodes and LeBon publicly denied the rumors but must have quickly reconsidered, as within a couple of months, the reunion was a go. The band did sporadic recording and touring over the next two years, slowly developing an album's worth of new material, eventually signing with Epic and releasing Astronaut in 2004 -- the first album featuring all five "original" members since the band's mid-'80s heyday.

Astronaut is being touted as a return to form for Duran Duran (press materials refer to the new album as "seductive"). Is it? Are they? I'm afraid you're gonna have to find that out for yourselves.

Higher Hip-Hop Education -- A quick lesson in Music 101, folks: There's rap, and then there's hip-hop. And just when you start to think about the similarities between the two genres, read between the lines - you're comparing apples to oranges, Toby Keith to the Rza; Ja Rule to Chali 2na.

Dear students, that's the fundamental flaw with the mainstream attitude toward music. The second that listeners start to hear words rhyming together, a staccato delivery and see a DJ as a part of a band's entourage, 'RAP' starts flashing across the movie screen of their mind. That's just not right. Because what you get with hip-hop is a unique brand of music molded from the very roots of reggae, jazz and poetry. And with hip-hop, you're not being subjected to tired references to bitches, blunts and bling, but instead you're viewing a crystal-clear landscape of introspective lyrics fused with the music of talented musicians. If rap is East Sprague, then hip-hop is a sunrise view from Cliff Drive.

Here in Spokane, however, it's rare to get that unobstructed hip-hop vista. Sure, we've got our guys who keep improving our ever-evolving hip-hop scene. There's Parafyn, there's Locke, the whole gaggle that comes along with Cursive Adonis and Freetime Synthetic. And while all of their efforts are more than appreciated, one thing Spokane doesn't have is a hip-hop group. That's a whole new animal.

Young but experienced, complex yet listenable, Minnesota-born and -bred Heiruspecs will pass across the B-Side stage this weekend -- and theirs is organically grown hip-hop at its very best.

Maybe it's because they've been at it so long and had biases stacked against them from the start; maybe it's that they still don't take themselves too seriously. Whatever the reason, they still speak from the true essence of hip-hop. The quintet started young at Central High School in Minneapolis and made a name for themselves with their shameless touring schedule. But touring 150 days per year just got the Heiruspecs name out there; talent got them noticed.

Spin Heiruspecs' newest album around your Discman once, and what you encounter in A Tiger Dancing isn't just hip-hop -- it's hip-hop in its truest form: experimental, instrumental and completely original.

Listen and learn. Heiruspecs front men MC Felix and Muad 'Dib layer songs with common-man flows about writing lyrics with the moon hanging high, about shouting love to their friends, about the women under their sheets. Clever, insightful lyrics bounce between the molasses bass line of Twinkie Jiggles (aka Sean McPherson) and the technicalities of drummer Peter Leggett. Keyboardist dVRG brings a new wave-ish electricity to each song, and together they carry it all away into a body-tingling, full-on-sensory version of hip-hop. It's furious, it's universal -- by God, this is what music should be. -- Leah Sottile

Giving Brandon a Hand -- Brandon Bird is a local 4-year-old who was recently diagnosed with a rare malignant brain tumor. His mom, Jolynn Chastine, along with Brandon's many friends, are throwing a benefit party rock show this weekend with Seattle band Red Light Music -- featuring Peter Klett, founding member and lead guitarist of '90s NW alt-rockers Candlebox -- and local faves Flyreal, among others, to raise money for his crucial and very expensive medical treatment. It's called Bands for Brandon, and all of the show proceeds will go to benefit the Brandon Bird Fund, a trust that has been set up in his name. Need a reason to get off yer duff this weekend and catch some whoop-ass live rock? I think I just gave you a really good one. The show is on Friday night at Fat Tuesday's.

Back in the mid '90s, Chastine -- who used to book bands into Outback Jack's -- had a big hand in bringing amazing national and local acts to Spokane. During those years, she also formed close ties with members of the local nightlife scene: bands, DJs, managers and fellow booking agents. When her son Brandon was diagnosed a couple of months ago with brain cancer, it was obviously a devastating blow to the family, both emotionally and financially. So her friends (both in and out of the scene) have stepped up to help with a fund, a Web site and benefit events, all designed to ease Chastine's burden and help out with Brandon's mounting medical bills. As anyone familiar with cancer treatment can tell you, chemotherapy is a terrifying and draining experience for both patient and family -- even more so when that patient is a little kid with no capacity to comprehend fully what's happening to him.

Anyway, Brandon could sure use a hand. And you could really use a night out. I'd say that's a perfect match. -- Mike Corrigan

Publication date: 03/03/05

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