Simon Says

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Simon Says

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 5:11AM

This week the fab five, Duran Duran, wraps up its North American tour with a pair of shows May 30-31 on the Summerstage in New York City's Central Park.

The band will follow its North American run with a few European and U.K. stops, including a July 2 show at La Cigale in Paris with über-producer Mark Ronson.

The evening will feature re-worked versions of Duran Duran hits and songs from Red Carpet Massacre, as well as Ronson & the Version Players performing tracks from the producer's album, Version.

Earlier this month, as the tour got rolling on the West Coast, Pollstar got to chat with frontman Simon LeBon. In part one of our interview, he talks about touring and the state of the music biz today.

Is the show that you're doing on this tour similar to the one you did during your residency at the Barrymore Theatre in New York City last fall?

There are elements that are similar. We played the whole of the new album for that show. We're not doing that now, we're interspersing it with older songs. But we've got the little surprise electro set in the middle.

Any chance that set might find its way onto an album at some point?

D'you know what? You never know. It's funny isn't it? We live in the days when you and I still think in terms of albums, but they're not really that relevant anymore are they? Actually, that's a pretty stupid thing to say, isn't it, seeing as we're out here trying to get people to listen to Red Carpet Massacre?

It's funny, I hadn't really thought about us doing that with the songs. Because they're re-worked songs that we wrote, some of them many years ago, some more recently. It's a possibility, but it still is a very live thing. So at the moment, no; we just like doing it live.

How are audiences responding to the new material?

Amazingly. We're playing about five new songs now in the set and they're going down extremely well.

Are you seeing as many young fans at shows as you are fans who may have been with you for a long time?

Yes, we are seeing a lot of young fans. I don't think it's particularly because of the new album. I think it's just that we've kind of managed to cross over some generations here.

You're often cited as an influence on younger bands. Do you think that's part of your appeal to younger fans?

I think it could be partly that. I know when I was into Joy Division, it kind of got me into The Doors because I knew that Jim Morrison was a big influence on Ian Curtis. Yeah, I guess that works that way. I think also it's not so much new bands as mums and dads and sisters and uncles and aunts, etc.

You've been around a long time, 28 years. That's a long time in this business. Why do you think you and some of your contemporaries, like Pet Shop Boys, Cyndi Lauper and Annie Lennox have managed to stand the test of time?

We're stubborn. We've also got good songs. I think it's much easier to stand on stage and play a song that's 25-years-old if it's a good song. If it was fluff then, you won't be able to play it 25 years later. We've got a great repertoire. We've got great fans who've kept us going; I mean, what a really amazing following we have. Time after time they want us to come back. They know they're going to get a different show each time we tour. It's exciting. I'm very proud of being in the band. I think that's got a lot to do with it as well. We get on with each other.

You and Nick are the only ones who stuck it out the whole time. Why do you think that is?

That's a difficult question to answer. I think that it's probably because we just felt it worth hanging on to. And it was our best bet.

How has the business changed, touring especially, since you started?

Well there are a lot more places to go; the world's gotten a lot bigger as far as touring is concerned. When we started off, we played England mostly, America, Canada and Europe - a bit of Europe, but not all of it. You couldn't play shows in Italy or Portugal, because there was no way you were going to get your money out of there. It was all run by a Mafia. We went down to Australia and did some stuff there, but you'd never go to places like Manila. You wouldn't got to Eastern Europe, the Balkans. You wouldn't go down to South America.

And all of these places now are really great. There are great crowds there and people who want to see the band. And it works for us; it's logistically possible to put a tour on and go to those places and come out of it looking good.

Do you find it easier to tour these days than in the past? Obviously you're in a more comfortable place.

It's a more demanding show now. And it's a much more demanding schedule. That's the other thing that's really different. We do five shows a week now and I think pretty much most people do as well, whereas we did three to four maximum before. But then touring was always considered the promotion for the record. Whereas now, it's the other way around; the record is driving people to your shows.

When you say it's more demanding, Martin Frye told us there's nowhere to hide in 2008. You have to go out there every night and give your absolute best show, because if you don't, people will know about it all the way around the world in a few hours.

That's true. It happened to us. We were in New Zealand for the first show of the whole tour. We had some technical problems and John went offstage to sort it out. And the next thing you know, the headline was "John Taylor Storms Offstage." So that's absolutely true. It's out there for everybody to see.

Do you think it's possible for a band that's just starting out to attain the level of success that you did?

No. Because there's so much more around. There's no way that the attention of the whole planet, the known planet for music, will ever be focused on one act again. And because the competition is so immense. I think we came at the end of it.

I think we also live in an age where bands are more of a rarity; you've got much more solo artists and more kind of show business acts, actually. I think that's one of the reasons people come to see us, to see five guys - well actually seven on stage - actually getting it together and doing it all ourselves. It's a spectacle and it's exciting.

That's the communal experience now. It used to be listening to the album together and now it's going to the show together.

Isn't it. It's amazing how people are prepared to invest so much more of their earnings into going to see a live performance than they would to buy a record. I think it's that whole thing about it's being ephemeral. It happens; you were there. It's not something that people can pass around.

In part two of our chat with Simon, coming tomorrow, we'll discuss Red Carpet Massacre, the lost Duran Duran album and what the future holds. - Jim Otey

Courtesy Pollstar