It's all about the show' as Duran Duran reclaims its reflex
Friday, July 08, 2005
By Keith Spera
To most of the pop world, July 13 is the 20th anniversary of the historic Live Aid concerts.
But in the annals of Duran Duran, Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of another milestone: The final show by the original Fab Five.
Following Duran Duran's 1985 Live Aid performance at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, drummer Roger Taylor quit. After five years of madness, the sort of mass hysteria previously reserved for the Beatles and David Cassidy, he'd had enough.
His departure coincided with Duran Duran's decline. Record sales tapered off as other members left, until only vocalist Simon LeBon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes remained. By the end of the 1990s, they'd been reduced to the casino circuit, the refuge of pop acts past their prime.
But just as a reborn Motley Crue has discovered, a lucrative market exists for '80s bands that reunite with their "original" -- or at least best-known -- rosters. In 2003, the classic lineup of Duran Duran -- LeBon, Rhodes, Taylor, bassist John Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor -- announced their intention to pick up where they'd left off.
"It was a very short-lived career, really," Roger Taylor said during a recent phone interview. "We finished at the top of our game. All of us thought that maybe it finished too soon, maybe there was still something more, another album or two, or another great tour."
Duran Duran launched its carefully calibrated comeback in the fall of 2003 with a tour of large clubs, including the local TwiRoPa. The shows quickly sold out, rekindling some of the old excitement.
In October 2004, Duran Duran released a credible new album, "Astronaut," followed this spring by a 45-date North American tour that culminated at a sold out Madison Square Garden in New York. This summer's European trek concluded last weekend at the Rome installment of Live 8, the sequel to the original Live Aid.
On Wednesday, Duran Duran kicks off another North American run at the UNO Lakefront Arena.
"It would have been easy for people to come along with all these hopes and memories and go, 'Oh, they're no good any more, are they?' " Taylor said. "But we're very lucky that the five of us can still play. We're still on the same page musically. It seems to be working for us again."
Anyone who saw Duran Duran in the 1980s really didn't hear them. The screams of young female fans drowned out the music.
"It used to be this high-pitched, bird noise that would just fill the stadiums," Taylor said. "Some nights, we thought, 'Wow, they're not even listening to us. We could just be standing here dancing. They just want to come look at us.' "
The craziness wasn't confined to concerts. Fans stalked the musicians, a flattering but frustrating mania.
"We'd go to every city in the world and we couldn't go outside the hotel without being mobbed," Taylor said. "Anybody who can do that for more than five years and come out normal, I'd give them a medal."
Realizing he'd either have to surrender himself entirely to the celebrity lifestyle or walk away, Taylor walked away. By the time Duran Duran played Live Aid, he said, "I knew that I was feeling pretty unhappy. The soul of the band by that point was in a pretty bad way. (The side projects) Power Station and Arcadia had been formed. We were in the same band, but we were all in different places.
"We were sick of each other. We'd been together five years, day in and day out, and never had a chance to explore anything else in life apart from the band. I wanted to go live a normal life for a while."
Taylor raised chickens on his farm, living comfortably on royalties generated by sales of 60 million albums worldwide. He kept a drum kit set up at home, and by the end of the 1990s, he'd begun to tinker with low-key music projects.
Then he received a call from John Taylor, proposing a Duran Duran reunion.
"I was shocked that it was going to happen again," Roger said. "So much water had gone under the bridge. Everybody was living in different parts of the world. But I felt that we had nothing to lose. The worst we could do was go out and play this amazing collection of songs that we have. The best was to write new material and maybe get a record deal. So for me it was a no-lose situation."
To test the waters, they rented a house in the south of France and set up their instruments.
"We plugged in and played for 10 days solidly," Taylor said. "After about seven days, we played 'Hungry Like the Wolf.' And it really was a Eureka moment. We thought, 'We can do this again.' "
With no manager, booking agent or record deal, a long road lay ahead.
"Record companies were polling people in the street, saying, 'Would you buy a Duran Duran album today? Would you go see them?' And most would say 'no,' " Taylor said. "They'd come back and say, 'Sorry, guys. We've done the research, nobody wants to know you.'
"So it was trying to make it work against the odds. It was literally about the five of us. It felt like a new band again."
They spent two years writing, recording and re-recording material before Sony/Epic Records finally signed them and released "Astronaut." With a contemporary sheen that suits Duran Duran's pop sense, "Astronaut" holds its own against the band's previous albums.
"Astronaut" has sold around 250,000 copies in the United States, fewer than the multimillion sellers of the band's heyday. But its respectable showing indicates Duran Duran has more to offer than nostalgia, even if most fans only want to sing "The Reflex," "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Rio," "Save a Prayer" and other '80s hits.
Contemporary audiences "appreciate the songs for what they are," Taylor said. "Strip away all the videos, the clothes and the makeup, and the songs have stood the test of time. We're playing them better than ever. It used to be that the party after the show was more important. Now the energy is focused into the show."
The band fully intends to continue its creative and commercial rebirth, Taylor said, with plans to start working on another album in September.
"It's like a boxer that finishes his championship fight as a winner and retires," Taylor said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, they come back again and try to reclaim the title."
What: The reunited pop band performs.
With: Opening act Stimulator.
When: Wednesday at 8.
Where: UNO Lakefront Arena.
Tickets: $38.50-$63.50 plus service charges through Ticketmaster.
Courtesy The Times-Picayune