Duran Duran Not Just Another Pretty-Boy Band

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In the 1980s and early ‘90s, Duran Duran proved it could record a radio-friendly single, ultimately placing 21 in the Billboard Hot 100 by 2004.

Songs like “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “The Reflex” and the band’s last Top 10 hit, 1993’s “Ordinary World,” combined the melodic daring of art rock with the rhythmic accessibility of dance music, making Duran Duran one of the most distinctive acts of the 1980s.

Initially dismissed by some critics as a pretty-boy band heralding the ascent of image over substance in the MTV era, Duran Duran wound up garnering the respect of many in the industry for the quality of their meticulously crafted records, and influenced several musicians who came in their wake, from Dido and The Dandy Warhols to The Killers and Franz Ferdinand.

This Saturday, Aug. 27, Duran Duran headlines MusicFest NW Presents Project Pabst. The festival’s anchor shows take place noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27-28, at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, in downtown Portland. Four of the five original Duran Duran members — bassist John Taylor, singer Simon Le Bon, drummer Roger Taylor, and keyboardist Nick Rhodes — will be on stage. Guitarist Andy Taylor left the group in 2006.

John Taylor co-founded Duran Duran along with Rhodes in Birmingham, England, in 1978. Over the decades, Taylor’s bass playing and backing vocals have been a key component of the band’s success, and he’s also lent his talents to The Power Station, fronted by the late Robert Palmer, which included his former Duran Duran bandmate, Andy Taylor, as well as Chic drummer Tony Thompson.

In a phone interview, Taylor notes Duran Duran is promoting its most recent album, “Paper Gods,” which he says is both a return to the band’s earliest approaches to songwriting, as well as an attempt to incorporate more contemporary sounds. For example, he says, the album’s title track, which clocks in at over seven minutes, harkens back to Duran Duran’s earliest days, when its Roxy Music-influenced members wanted to create “full meals” of sound.

“We’ve been thinking ‘in four minutes and under’ forever,” he says, noting the band’s penchant for pop singles. “I think there’s something ambitious about opening with something that feels like an overture.”

The band will likely play a few cuts off of “Paper Gods” which features extensive collaborations with Brit electronica artist Mr Hudson, as well as the single “Pressure Off,” which includes guest vocals by Janelle Monae and guitar work by Nile Rodgers. The rest of the set should please longtime fans, he says.

“I know what people are expecting from us, and we don’t want to disappoint them,” Taylor says.

The band enjoyed working with Mr Hudson, a fellow Birmingham native, he adds.

“He’s got a very open mind sonically,” Taylor says. “He brought in a lot of ideas that we would use,” he adds, noting Hudson assisted in songwriting and arrangements.

Duran Duran has always been a collaborative band, he says.

“Everybody has their specialty,” he says. “Simon is open to melodic and lyrical ideas from someone else, Nick is open to ideas for the keys. We’re not precious in that sense.”

The band is well aware of its place in pop history, but doesn’t get too bogged down in all that, Taylor says, especially as it seeks to keep its live shows exciting.

“It’s a constant curation that’s going on at this stage,” he says. “It’s maintaining the legacy, but looking forward and not getting too hung up on the legacy.”

Speaking of legacy, Taylor has his own outside Duran Duran. He played on hits sung by the late Robert Palmer, including Power Station’s “Some Like It Hot,” and also logged time with former Sex Pistol Steve Jones in Neurotic Outsiders, which included Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan of Guns ‘n’ Roses. The band was active primarily from 1995-97 and put out one album.

“It was a step away from the grandeur of ... Duran Duran,” he says. “With Steve, it was very simple eighth notes and major chords, and we all do it on the four. I needed to get out of that complexity of going into the studio and just rock.”

However, at the end of the day, Taylor says he’s enjoys playing more complex music and also likes the fact Duran Duran is known for its stylish image and groundbreaking videos. English rock bands have always been interested in the fusion of the visual and sonic arts, he says. The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as well as David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” era influenced numerous Brit rockers to work on how they looked as much as how they sounded.

“When I go to see a band or an artist, I want to see a show,” Taylor says. “I want to see the kind of visual ideas that are being posited by an artist.”

MusicFest NW Presents Project Pabst features top acts at Waterfront Park, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27-28, as well as club shows, Aug. 25-27. There are $90 weekend passes or $55 daily tickets available (www.projectpabst.com).

Courtesy Portland Tribune