- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

NXS was the dance-rock king of the late 1980s, selling some 30 million albums worldwide and performing in packed stadiums. The Australian band’s tight, in-the-pocket rhythm section, patented guitar riffs and Jaggeresque lead singer Michael Hutchence placed its brand of new wave funk at the top of the heap alongside the heavy-duty supergroups of the era, U2 and REM.

By 1997, musical styles had changed. The band continued to perform but hadn’t adjusted to the times (as U2 and REM had) or managed a hit in years. On the eve of embarking on a 20th anniversary tour, Mr. Hutchence was found hanging by a leather strap in his hotel room in Sydney. Officially ruled a suicide, many close to the singer believed Mr. Hutchence’s death was the result of autoerotic asphyxiation, in which choking to the point of unconsciousness heightens sexual pleasure.

Abruptly, the band’s run came to a virtual end. The surviving founding members, brothers Tim, Andrew and Jon Farriss; Gary Beers; and Kirk Pengilly tried to carry on with a new lead singer or two, but couldn’t concoct the right formula.

Almost a decade later, with seemingly nowhere left to turn the band joined forces with TV producer Mark Burnett of “Survivor” fame and chose a new lead singer before a national audience last summer. No “American Idol,” Mr. Burnett and INXS’ “Rock Star” aired weekly on CBS with an edginess that “Idol” has never quite managed.

Indeed, the singer they chose to front INXS after weeks of vigorous competition is a 32-year-old formerly homeless Elvis impersonator named JD Fortune.

Perhaps even stranger than all of the above circumstances, Mr. Fortune has proven to be the missing piece for whom INXS has so desperately searched.

Saturday night at the Warner Theatre, Mr. Fortune and INXS swept through a crisp, energetic set of the band’s standards plus four new tunes from their recently released CD “Switch” (Epic), a record that has sold more than 250,000 copies since its release in late 2005.

Never sounding tighter, the original members of INXS appeared well-preserved and performed with refreshing urgency.

1980s mega-hits such as “New Sensation,” “Need You Tonight” and “Devil Inside” took on a bright new countenance. Numbers from the new album, “Devil’s Party,” “Afterglow,” “Never Let You Go,” and the band’s first hit single in decades, “Pretty Vegas,” proved alternately grinding, groovy, and in the case of the soaring “Afterglow,” even beautiful.

On the downside, as elegant and authentic as the original band members appeared on stage, their fledgling singer is an over-the-top, albeit ultra-talented, performer.

A stunningly great singer, Mr. Fortune’s appeal also hinges on his underdog status — he’s gone from sleeping in a car to performing before hordes of worshipers, many of them of the opposite sex who find him easy on the eyes. But Mr. Fortune’s exaggerated movements on stage, writhing, blowing kisses, continuous undulating and sophomoric rants such as, “You got any bars in this town?” give off vibes that he’s trying just a bit too hard.

In the end, it’s impossible to fault Mr. Fortune for his innocent pretensions. He seems intent on connecting with his audience and his new band.

Now, if Mr. Fortune can stop changing T-shirts on stage (three in less than an hour and a half), and continue to learn from his veteran band mates, INXS has potential to continue its unexpected and infectious rebirth.

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