Duran Duran is Back and Ready to Rock Outside Lands Fest in San Francisco

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Duran Duran, the biggest musical act on the planet three decades ago, is still in the game.

The group will play Day One at the three-day Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco Friday, playing its hits as well as new tunes from its 14th album “Paper Gods,” released last year.

The band, which was launched into international fame with hits like “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “The Reflex” and the exotic, era-defining music videos that helped catapult MTV into our collective consciousness, was at its popular peak in the 1980s,

But this is no nostalgia act, and might be in contention for bringing the biggest fan base to the massive three-day festival, where it will share the bill with acts like Beach House, Grimes and Foals.

Unlike other bands of its era, Duran Duran has never stopped creating new music and touring in support of it.

“I love our past work and I love my past life,” singer Simon Le Bon said in a recent interview with Newsday in New York. “I’m really proud of it and glad that it was us who had the place that we had in that time. But I don’t want to be stuck there. I want to be now as well. I find that nostalgia and sentimentalism makes me feel very uncomfortable.”

The band hasn’t forsaken the catalog of hits that fans know and love.

“Of course, we’re Duran Duran and when we play ‘The Reflex’ and when we play ‘Rio’ and when we play ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ of course people think about the 1980s and so do we,” Le Bon said. “But it’s on our terms and it’s a show that we’ve produced and we’ve created, and we’ve created these images and this vibe that makes it relevant now. That’s what’s important.”

Formed in Birmingham, England in 1978, the five-member band included Le Bon, bassist John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor (none of the Taylors are related) and keyboardist Nick Rhodes.

The band endured departures from all but Le Bon and Rhodes over the years, but the full band reunited and began recording new music as a five-piece group in 2001. Andy Taylor left the band for good in 2006.

While their music resonates with diehard fans, it has also earned them cultural capital with new generations of musicians. Hyper-hot producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Adele and Wale) asked to work with them to make 2010’s “All You Need is Now.”

Duran Duran’s influence drew artists like Janelle Monae, Mr. Hudson and ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante to appear on the “Paper Gods” album. Lindsay Lohan makes a cameo appearance, giving a dramatic reading of the “I am your doctor” role on “Danceophobia.”

Riding a wave of critical enthusiasm for their last two albums, the band’s live shows exude energy.

“I think even the most casual music fans who go to see Duran Duran wants to hear something new — something new they like,” John Taylor said in a recent interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Most of my peer group are stuck in a certain period, but when I hear something new I like, I’m excited by it. I’m still alive,” he said. “I hope audiences understand this theory that artists have to do new material, that’s what invigorates the presentation of the old hits.”

Recent sets have been opening with the “Paper Gods” title track, but then the band launches into “Wild Boys” and “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

And the vigor and sharpness with which the band plays may be a nod to their touring partners.

Duran Duran has been touring with Chic, which now mainly consists of founding funk genius and super-producer Nile Rodgers of “Get Lucky,” “We Are Family,” and “Let’s Dance” fame.

Rodgers helped remix “The Reflex” into a megahit in the mid-80s, was the producer of note on the “Notorious” album in 1986 and put his mark on “Paper Gods.”

Chic won’t play at Outside Lands, but music fans can expect the benefit of Duran Duran having spent months writing with, and sharing the stage, with guitarist Rodgers.

Although festivals generally mean shorter sets, fans can expect to hear “Last Night in the City” and “What are the Chances” from Paper Gods as well as the first single, “Pressure Off.”

What fans may not see is Rhodes behind his massive bank of keyboards. The band announced on July 7 that Rhodes had left the tour to attend to an “urgent family matter” and would be replaced temporarily by MNDR.

“We have a shared obsession, shared ambition for this band of ours,” John Taylor told Live Nation TV.

Ambition, obsession and a good dose of fun are all likely to be in the air when Duran Duran takes the stage at Outside Lands.

Courtesy Press Democrat