Duran Duran Comes Right Back … Like Reflex Unforgettable ’80s Stars to Play House of Blues

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By Heidi Stevens, Tribune reporter
1:34 p.m. CDT, April 21, 2011

Eight years is a long time to wait for a second date. But when the date is Nick Rhodes, well … you wait.

Rhodes, as if he needs any introduction, is the keyboardist for '80s-dominating, music video-pioneering, 80-million-album-selling Duran Duran. We made each other's acquaintance in 2003 when we (very briefly) connected (via phone) before the band's reunion show at House of Blues (thanks to his publicist). Of course the details aren't really important. The point is we talked and I'm pretty sure we both felt the spark.

Now Rhodes, 48, and the, ahem, boys — Simon LeBon, 52, John Taylor, 50, Roger Taylor, 50, and new guitarist Dom Brown, 39 — are returning to House of Blues on Saturday to perform from their 13th full-length album, "All You Need Is Now" (S-Curve Records).

And wouldn't you know, he came calling once again. (Oh, fine. I called him. His publicist, actually, who patched me through to him. But seriously, why are we getting hung up on these kinds of details?) The important thing is we reconnected. And darn if he didn't go and get even cooler during the past seven years.

He was in California when he took my call, prepping for a San Francisco show before darting off to Indio, where the band performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, a first for the group.

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"They approached us about it and it seemed like a rather splendid idea," Rhodes said. "I love those giant outdoor gigs, and it's a great bill this year. I wish I could go and see some of them actually. I'd love to see Arcade Fire."

Was he expecting to find a contingent of Duranies out in the desert? "Obviously a certain amount of our audience will be there and a certain amount who will take some convincing, which is always a good challenge."

And not a wholly unique challenge at that. In March, the group played South by Southwest, a weeklong festival in Austin, Texas, that serves as a veritable music mecca for the hippest of the hip.

"I always thought of it as a tiny, super-cool, indie festival," Rhodes says. "It is very cool, but it's enormous."

And a tempting place, one imagines, to flaunt your 80-million-album-selling musician cred among the newbies. But Rhodes says he's not in the habit of dispensing been-there, done-that advice.

"I think with any kind of entertainment, what usually works is people who do things completely differently than the way the last people did it," Rhodes says.

Which brings us to "All You Need Is Now." Produced by Mark Ronson, the album hit No. 1 on the iTunes albums chart in 15 countries when it was released in December. It's a departure from the sound of the last few releases, embracing instead the original synth-pop sound while tossing in modern nods like guest vocals from the Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic.

"It was time to pull the reins back and find that Duran Duranness again," Rhodes says. "(Ronson) had a very focused vision of what we should do and he was right. It came down to looking at all the elements that made our sound in the first place and using them in our songwriting to create something new which people would identify with at this time."

I wondered who Rhodes thought, of the artists we're hearing now, would still be performing in 25 years.

"That's a tricky one," he said. "If you had asked me if we'd still be around 20 years later, I'm not sure I would have said yes. I think Arcade Fire could be. Radiohead. Certainly Kanye (West) could be. He's always maintaining his audience's captivation with things that are different, which I always like in artists."

I could sense our conversation drawing to a close, but I wasn't about to let him off the phone without a bit of reminiscing. You know, about Chicago. (By which I mean me.)

"I always love Chicago," he says. "We've been coming to Chicago since our very, very first tour. We played a place that's still there — one of the few venues that's still around from back then. The Park West. I have very fond memories of that first tour."

That's great and all. But I was not in attendance in 1984, being that I was 10. I decided to steer the conversation more toward our future.

"I'm sure we'll be back in Chicago later this year playing somewhere a little bigger," he said. "I have no doubts."

Two trips to Chicago in one year? Oh, like that's a coincidence.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St.

Tickets: $50-$65 (17+); 312-923-2000

Courtesy Chicago Tribune