For a band well-known to have one foot in pop and the other in rock, Duran Duran sure did kick up a surprising amount of funk at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night.
The British hitmakers of '80s MTV fame enlisted '70s disco-groove army Chic for its opening act on tour this year, but it turned out Chic played a much more pivotal role than just jump-starting beer sales (or chardonnay pours, in this case) out in the mezzanine.
Duran Duran seemed to take a cue from its warm-up band and tried to spark as much dancing as it did singalongs. The band pretty much had to keep things moving or risk coming off like duds after Chic generated unusual excitement for an opener.
Led by influential producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers — who helped shape some of Duran Duran's '80s hits — Chic started out playing to audience members still finding their seats. Many of the 10,000 fans never actually sat down when they got there, though.
Rodgers, 63, schooled the crowd on some of the many legendary tunes he has worked on, from Diana Ross' "Upside Down" to Madonna's "Like a Virgin" to "Get Lucky," a 2013 hit with Daft Punk and Pharrell. He prefaced the last tune with a moving account of his battle with cancer, which ended soon before he worked on the Grammy-winning song.
"Tonight, I feel like I'm the luckiest man in the world," Rodgers said to cheers, which kept coming as he bounced through Chic's own hits, "Le Freak" and "Good Times."
By somewhat freaky contrast, Duran Duran started out on a rather dour and dark note with the title track to its new album, "Paper Gods." What was supposed to be a moody opening montage turned Spinal Tap-ian funny as the stage's overpowering fog machine got turned up to 11, and the band members visibly gasped for air.
Even as the smoke cleared and the stage brightened for the old hits "Wild Boys" and "Hungry Like the Wolf," singer Simon Le Bon fought through a murky rasp in his voice. He even sat through one of the new songs, "What Are the Chances?" His lack of exuberance proved fitting.
Le Bon's voice eventually warmed up as the songs picked up in tempo. Rodgers came back out about 45 minutes into the 110-minute set and played along to two of the songs he helped mold, including the 1986 fan fave "Notorious" and the best new song of the night, "Pressure Off."
Duran Duran then managed to keep the dance party going after Rodgers left. Highlights included an excitedly techno-ized version of "The Reflex" and a fun cover of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines," both showcasing chemistry between the original rhythm section of bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor (no relation).
A trio of women backup vocalists added meatiness to those tunes and the finale "Rio," but the real MVP was keyboardist MNDR (aka Amanda Warner). The one-time Twin Cities resident and Macalester College grad filled in dutifully on short notice while Nick Rhodes is attending to family matters back home.
Le Bon broke from script at the start of the encore to pay tribute to Minnesota's best-known musician.
"He's one of the greatest musicians the world will ever see," he said of Prince, calling for purple stage lights and an arena full of cellphone lights to illuminate "Save a Prayer." It was another moving moment akin to Rodgers' cancer speech, but the best parts of Saturday's concert were downright physical.