As one of the biggest bands of the ’80s and one of only a handful to still have arena-filling status, the New Wave heroes continue to look ahead, even while most of their contemporaries focus on the past.
“I love our past work and I love my past life,” says Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon, calling from his London home. “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.”
That’s why the band’s recent “Paper Gods” (Warner Bros.) album sounds so current, as if it could have come from one of the many bands that drew inspiration from them, and why the new tour, which stops at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 12, may be the band’s most elaborate yet. (Le Bon says there’s a surprise planned for the Brooklyn show, but won’t say if it’s an appearance by Lindsay Lohan, who was a guest on the band’s new song “Danceophobia.”)
“It’s big for us,” he says. “We’ve never done that massive kind of Pink Floyd-type show, the U2 kind of enormous production thing. We’ve always felt that for us, the music had to do the job. We didn’t want to detract from the music or distract ourselves from the music.”
He says for this tour, the band — Le Bon, bassist John Taylor, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor — felt that the music from “Paper Gods” lent itself to a larger presentation. “The bigness of this, though, it’s light — the photons are going to be doing the work,” Le Bon says. “We don’t have giant cranes or inflatable women or London buses swinging from the ceiling or elephants climbing out of toilet bowls. None of that. I like the idea of elephants climbing out of toilet bowls, though. Very ‘Trainspotting.’ ”
It’s that kind of inspired thinking that helped give “Paper Gods” a bit more edge, whether it was on the funky single “Pressure Off” or the current dance pop of “Last Night in the City.”
Le Bon says the band definitely was looking for something new. “The preceding album, ‘All You Need Is Now,’ was very much a recapturing of the territory we had in the 1980s,” he says, referring to the Mark Ronson-produced album. “That was the aim of that record. You can’t repeat that because then you would be stuck in a rut. When we’d been working on ‘Paper Gods’ for about a year, we hit this very rich seam of ideas and sounds. That coincided with the time when [producer] Mr. Hudson joined the project. He got us sounding really edgy, this space around the notes, which we had never had before. That was exciting to us and it was abundantly clear to everybody on the project that this was the direction the album had to take.”
Though there is currently plenty of interest in ’80s acts, especially after the massive “I Heart the ’80s” festival and TV special in February, Le Bon says that really isn’t a road that Duran Duran will ever want to take.
“Some of the other artists, you look at them and think, ‘I’ve got nothing in common with these people. Why have I been put on the same bill as them? Just because we were making records at the same time? The music’s not the same,’ ” Le Bon says. “We can do our own shows. . . . 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. 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.”
Le Bon is quick to point out, though, that focusing on the future doesn’t mean forgetting the past. He says working with Nile Rodgers again on “Paper Gods” and on the current tour shows the band’s approach toward nostalgia. “We look at the importance of our heritage,” he says. “That’s really classy, Chic and Duran Duran — that’s what I mean about doing it on our own terms. . . . To continue that by playing shows with Chic around the United States is amazing. As an evening’s worth of entertainment, it’s unbeatable.”
Le Bon says it’s a way of taking a broader look at music.
“Music shouldn’t have a shelf life of 10 years or 15 years or 20 years,” he says. “Good music should have a shelf life of a century or more. When you go and listen to Mozart, you don’t automatically think about guys in powdered wigs, do you? You listen to the music and you get off on the music. It’s a pure experience.”
WHO Duran Duran
WHEN|WHERE 7 p.m. April 12, Barclays Center, Brooklyn
INFO $29.95-$184.45; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Duran Duran’s current set is about one-quarter new material and three-quarters classic material from their 35-year career. Of course, that’s still not enough time to play all their hits, much less the band’s deep cuts. If we could play “paper god” with the Duran set list, here’s what we would throw in:
FRIENDS OF MINE (1981) The Bowie-esque verses played nicely against the buoyant, anthemic classic-rock chorus before John Taylor’s funky basslines kicked in to create a combination that was unique to the band.
MY OWN WAY (1982) Combining the disco-era strings and synth flourishes with slashing guitar, the band hit on a glitzy new style punctuated with Simon Le Bon’s declaration that he’s in the heart of midtown Manhattan, “45 between Sixth and Broadway.”
911 IS A JOKE (1995) Though Duran Duran has been doing Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s “White Lines” on this tour, Le Bon actually raps better on Public Enemy’s “911 Is a Joke” approximating a pretty good Flavor Flav. The song’s political message is one of only a handful in the band’s entire catalog, making it even more special. — GLENN GAMBOA