Duran Duran play the Moda Center on June 1, in what will be their eighth official visit to the Rose City.
They were last here in the sweet, naïve days of August 2016 when they played to an ecstatic crowd in front of the Pabst Blue Ribbon unicorn at Waterfront Park. Front man Simon Le Bon wore white jeans and sang a cover of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines," along with many of their top hits.
“The last times I’ve come to Portland I’ve had a look around, and what strikes one about Portland is the homeless people,” Le Bon told Pamplin Media. He spoke by Zoom “ensconced at a small vineyard in Napa Valley, ahead of the BottleRock festival, trying not to drink all the produce.”
Portland was known for something even in 2016.
“It was extraordinary to see how many soup kitchens were in operation. A massive operation, and quite laudable,” Le Bon said.
The British band has a rule of playing two-thirds hits on the road, and one-third new or esoteric stuff. Their catalog is worth exploring, in a 'Bring your daughter to work day' kind of way. In 2021 Duran Duran released an album “Future Past”, which contains the great song “All of You," which they played with Barli on vocals at CNN’s New Year’s Eve telecast in 2021.
Still got it
Le Bon said Duran Duran never let playing live become a slog.
“The number one principle is ‘Let the songs do the work.’ We created a really good repertoire, and people don’t come to a concert to see Duran Duran, they come to hear ‘Ordinary World’ and ‘Girls on Film’ and ‘Come Undone.' We serve the songs,” Le Bon said.
“If we deliver them in a way they're meant to be heard, then everything else about performance falls into place. The music is perennial, and it doesn't matter how many times we perform these songs, they are always fresh to us.”
He added: “Music makes you feel like you are not alone... If you put yourself in the position of somebody in the crowd, that person wants to be moved emotionally. And that's what our songs do. And if you think of it like that, it'll never become tedious.”
They will keep touring, with breaks, as long as it’s still fun.
“You just keep the ball rolling, and then there comes a point when you go, 'Guys, I think we've had enough of this we go into the studio and write another album.’ The appetite and the desire to be creative, and to be part of the music scene, is one of the big driving forces with us.’
“I often have to get dragged back from a year-long holiday, you know. Nick (Rhodes, keyboards) in the meantime has been in the studio and completed about six new solo projects."
Assuming they play the songs they have just been playing in Europe, according to Setlist.fm expect a night of solid gold hits like “Planet Earth," “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Ordinary World," climaxing with bangers like “Save A Prayer” and “Rio.”
For Le Bon, the power of music is what keeps the show on the road, tiring though it might be for other artists in their early 60s.
“Music can put into words a feeling that somebody's got inside themselves, but hasn't been able to vocalize or rationalize. And we make people feel better about themselves," he said. "And I think that's the beauty of music, and the bringing together of people, you know, we live in a world that is a society that wants to fracture all the time, politically over all sorts of issues — race, gender — and what we do is we bring people together.”
When they broke onto the scene, as a Midlands rival to those other New Romantics, Spandau Ballet, it was a revelation that you could just tuck your peg trousers into your pixie boots (Simon) or don a ruffle-fronted shirt (Nick) and be instantly glamorous. John (Taylor) invented the classic 1980s jackets-with-rolled-up-sleeves look because they were catching on the strings of his guitar. And clothes (fashion or costume) remain important to Duran Duran today.
“We very seriously value the impact of the visual and the clothes,” said Le Bon. “It helps you become the person you've got to be on stage. You put on the makeup, you put on the clothes, and you become Duran Duran, rather than Nick, Charlie (Le Bon's middle name), Rog (Roger Taylor) and JT. We've got a great wardrobe person, Jeffrey (Bryant), he makes clothes, he alters things. He helps design the whole personal look.”
Of Le Bon’s three daughters with his wife Yasmin, he says Amber lives “up at the end of the garden in little cottage there with her partner and her two little boys, our grandsons. We're very close family and we look after each other,” he said.
Their youngest, Tallulah, recently left home to do a degree course in fine art in southeast London. (Le Bon studied theater at the University of Birmingham in the UK.) What does he think is the value of an art degree these days?
“The value is not in the qualification,” he stressed. “The value is in being around artists and being affected by other artists. It’s being introduced to new techniques by people who know what they're doing. It's about the work that we do on the course, and what you learn about people while you are at university.”
Although Duran Duran’s hits are served up on retail store sound systems as feel good muzak for housewives and dads, Le Bon said they have no control over the algorithm, but they do have final say when someone wants to license a song for a commercial or a soundtrack.
“We always ask ourselves, is this good for the song and our career? If the answer to either one of those questions is no, we don't give permission.”
For example, “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
“There was a comedy TV show they wanted to change the lyric to something like ‘I’m easy like the boat.’ And it was crass. And we just thought, it's not going to help us, it cheapens the song and actually makes the song worth less in people's hearts, and they're definitely not paying us enough money! I don't blame people trying and proposing these things, but it's up to us to say yes or no.”
Wild Boys in the Rose City: ALL DURAN Duran’s Portland shows
- Aug. 27, 2016: Project Pabst, Waterfront Park
- Sept. 24, 2011: Rose Garden (now Moda Center) Theater of the Clouds
- March 10, 2005: Rose Garden (now Moda Center)
- Sept. 5, 1999: Waterfront Park
- Dec. 6, 1993: Memorial Coliseum
- Feb. 5, 1989: Civic Auditorium (now the Keller)
- Aug. 14, 1987: Civic Stadium (now Providence Park)
Courtesy Portland Tribune