Duran Duran: Still Feisty After All These Years

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There's something different about the sound of the crowd at a Duran Duran concert these days. It's what happens when more guys start showing up.

"Yeah, the sound of the crowd is a little deeper," founding member John Taylor, the group's bass player, says with a laugh. "I notice, really only in the last couple of years, it's like guys seriously surrender to the band. For many, many years, we were a girls band, the guys would be dragged along. Now, it's not like that anymore; it's very mixed. Guys aren't ashamed of digging the band anymore."

Good thing for the guys. Because after 38 years as a band (give or take a few comings and goings), Duran Duran is sounding as charged-up and vital as ever. Its most recent album, 2015's "Paper Gods," is as good as anything to come out of the band's '80s heyday. Duran Duran has been touring behind the album since September 2015, and will be playing The Theater at MGM National Harbor on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Not bad for a bunch of British new wavers, named after a sci-fi comic strip character (from "Barbarella") and dismissed by some nay-sayers as too fashion-centric, or maybe too pretty, to be true rockers (hence the "girls band" tag). But there's a good chance those critics were probably still humming "Rio" or "Hungry Like the Wolf" under their breath. And hey, you don't hang around for nearly four decades without a more encompassing fan base.

Our audiences, it's fantastic what they bring to us," says Taylor, speaking over the phone from his home in Bath, England. "Rock music appeals to all ages, doesn't it? There's a lot of love in that room, I can tell you."

How has the band made it this far? The answer is simple, Taylor says, even if the process hasn't always been. Never take the band, or the audience, for granted, and remember what got you where you are.

"Obviously, we were kids when we started out, and none of us had any interest other than advancing the agenda of the band," says Taylor, 56. "But as individuals form families, then the band has a different sort of groove to it. It's an evolution. But one thing I will say is that, every time you walk out onto the stage ... it resets things. We've always found that."

It isn't easy, Taylor says, and "it shouldn't be." But it's powerful, and it means something to a lot of people. Which is one reason Taylor and his longterm bandmates — singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor — still enjoy playing the hits that made them a mainstay of the newly launched MTV back in the '80s. (Original guitarist Andy Taylor left the group in 2006.)

"When the band had been together for five years, we would get asked, 'You have to play those old hits?'" Taylor remembers. "I mean, I remember feeling like, 'Oh my God, we have to play those old songs?' 20 years ago.

"But then you go through this transition phase, and then you realize, 'We've got some songs in the pantheon.' Those songs are up there, and you don't not play them. Every night, you play them, and you remind people why they're in the pantheon, and you remind yourself why they're in the pantheon. You play them, and you're grateful."

But as "Paper Gods" proves, Duran Duran is not just about what came before. The band is just as set on making fans in the 21st century as they were in the 20th.

"You've got to keep your ears open, I think, to what's happening, not be afraid," Taylor says. "It's all about knowing the limits, you know? Any father that tries to talk teenage to his teenage son is aware of the pitfalls — there's a point at which it's cool, and there's a point at which it's stupid. So you kind of have to know."

One reason "Paper Gods" sounds so au courant, Taylor says, is the producers Duran Duran recruited to help put its 14th studio album together. It's quite the foursome: Chic's Nile Rodgers, who will recieve an Award for Musical Excellence from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year; Mark Ronson, who produced the band's 2011 album "All You Need Is Now" and won a Grammy for his 2014 single with Bruno Mars, "Uptown Funk"; Kanye West/Jay Z collaborator Mr. Hudson; and Josh Blair, who has worked with Paul McCartney, Alicia Keys, Rufus Wainwright and many others.

"Every producer that we've worked with, and I'm thinking of the producers on this record, they all came to the project with a sense of the band's history," Taylor says. "'How can we make a 21st-century record, one that is true to the band's legacy, or where it's coming from?'

"I think producers can be a little bit more objective about how an artist, or a band, can ride the currents, the contemporary currents."

Still, the bottom line for Duran Duran's continued vitality and creativity is pretty basic, Taylor says. And it's something their audience at National Harbor should be able to see for themselves.

"That stage time — it's a reminder that this is what we do," he says. "This is why we are in each other's lives, this is why we have been in each other's lives for so long, because we can do this when we get together."

And the band will continue to spend some quality stage time together in 2017. Duran Duran recently added spring tour stops in California, and then will head to Argentina, Brazil and Chile for Lollapalooza's South American iterations.

"It's a God-given chemistry that we have," Taylor says, "and the fact that people still get excited about it — it's not to be taken for granted or taken lightly."

If you go:
Duran Duran will be at The Theater at MGM National Harbor, 7100 Oxon Hill Road at National Harbor, Prince George's County, for two shows: 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $113.64-$325. mgmnationalharbor.com.

Courtesy Baltimore Sun