Duran Duran leads '80s encore

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Duran Duran leads '80s encore
Music, not nostalgia, brought Wild Boys back together

Nick Lewis

Calgary Herald

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Duran Duran performs at the Saddledome on March 7 with guest Ima Robot.

Tickets, $49.50 to $79.50, available at Ticketmaster.

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The screams are as loud as Duran Duran's John Taylor recalls and from his vantage point on stage, the arenas seem just as full.

Two decades on from his band's halcyon days, the crowds are the same -- literally. Older and richer, they still buy concert merchandise, but don't own the band's latest album. These Duraniacs couldn't tell you what songs have made it to radio, nor do they care. They come to hear songs they memorized 20 years ago.

And the 44-year-old Taylor is beyond fine with that, he's ecstatic.

"We've been playing intermittently since summer of 2003 and the response has been. . . unbelievable," he almost whispers over the phone. "If ever we doubted that this was worth doing, it's changed. The kids, they (expletive) go wild. I had no idea these songs would have this sort of longevity. I'm so glad. I'm so glad I wrote those songs when I did."

Duran Duran exploded in 1982, ushering in the so-called romantic era with synth-rock hits like Planet Earth and Rio.

The first real band to understand the power of MTV, Duran Duran's sharp, androgenous looks and catchy dance-rock singles were beamed globally to impressionable kids, meaning they influenced fashion as much as musical tastes.

Because of this, most people agree Duran Duran wouldn't have enjoyed the success it did if not for MTV.

"It's certainly a strong proposition, but it doesn't matter now, does it?" Taylor says. "It's like saying The Beatles would have never enjoyed their success if not for the matching suits.

"I mean, you're a fool if you imagine none of these things matter. It's never all about talent. It's so much about being on the right TV show on the right night of the week wearing the right jacket. It really is. How else do people notice you? I mean, most people I know barely use their eyes, let alone their ears."

Success came too quickly for the five twentysomethings, and after two members quit a few years in, Taylor says he and the others were left "holding the eyeliner."

Several incarnations of the band survived, most famously as the '90s balladeering outfit that gave us Come Undone and Ordinary World.

But 27 years since forming the band with keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist Taylor, who has been called the band's "glue," has brought the original lineup back together again. That includes singer Simon Le Bon, guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor.

John Taylor won't take credit for it (although every other Duran Duran member credits him in their interviews), he simply laughs and says: " I'm not going to take responsibility for it."

"I'm not quite sure how these things come together, really," he says. "I suppose I. . . I had wanted to get the five of us back together on stage for some time. That's my contribution. But we're all glue.

"Listen, if I got sick for five months and couldn't tour, the band could carry on without me. We could carry on without almost anybody, and we proved that. Duran Duran can fly with just Simon Le Bon. I mean, that's what happens with these bands. You go see A Flock of Seagulls, and there's only one bloody original member! Or even if you go see The Coasters and The Drifters, same thing. We've got the full monty."

Taylor is aware of the current spate of '80s revivalism. It has meant a number of acts have recently reformed to modest success, including Motley Crue, A Tribe Called Quest, Van Halen, The Pixies, Bauhaus, Kraftwerk, Cocteau Twins, Tears For Fears, Styx, REO Speedwagon and Judas Priest. An all-star '80s revival tour called Here and Now traversed Europe a couple of years ago, starring Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Belinda Carlisle, Howard Jones and ABC. And even one-hit wonders such as Flock of Seagulls, Toronto and 2 Live Crew are drawing one-time fans out.

"I think it has to do with the fact that at some point, these acts wrote some good songs," Taylor says. "The music of Kraftwerk or The Pixies, has it nothing left to offer? Of course not! I mean, do people still want to listen to Mozart or Bach? Of course they do. Has anybody come along and done what Kraftwerk or The Pixies do better? No.

"And so to go to a concert hall and hear (Kraftwerk's) Trans-Europe Express, God! Why wouldn't you want to do that? Likewise with The Pixies. Most people didn't get them the first time around. I felt they grew in appreciation after Kurt Cobain championed them, and by the time people began to understand how important they were, they packed it in. Just like a lot of people who are coming to see us on this tour have never seen the original band lineup."

These reunions give the bands themselves new life as well, as Taylor says most musicians don't really know how to do anything else.

"I mean it's the pressures of the industry that cause you to break up, and the pressures of being a musician and being the kind of people musicians usually are," he says. "The fact is we like to drink and take drugs and get into really complex relationships, and it doesn't make for sticking in the job for long. We're not dentists and doctors, we just take our gigs as they come. You break up because you need a break, and you come back together because you realize you have a gift."

Duran Duran is roaring through this reunion on little to no video or radio airplay. They financed their album themselves, without record label backing, and though it has borne two Top-40 singles (Sunrise and What Happens Tomorrow), neither have cracked the top 10. And Astronaut hasn't come close to the sort of sales generated by the band's '80s albums.

But there doesn't seem to be a need for it with a built-in audience willing to sell-out arenas anyway.

Especially when the band plays to the audience. Instead of whoring out selections from Astronaut, Duran Duran has been performing a "greatest hits" package that includes Hungry Like The Wolf and The Reflex.

But Taylor hopes that the excitement behind these favourites leads fans to Astronaut.

"I love that we're on the road going all across America and Canada over the next few months, because you can really move people during that time," he says. "And if we can move people to look at the new album, we can get some energy, and then who the (expletive) knows? We really believe in ourselves as a premier league band."

This time around, the premier league band members are older and wiser and understand that they're fortunate to still be able to fill arenas.

"I definitely am taking more time to appreciate things this time around," Taylor says. "I'm just not sure what I'm supposed to be appreciating."

Courtesy The Calgary Herald