Dyed hair with headbands, sports jackets over expensive t-shirts and lots of eye makeup.
It was Duran Duran, who made a lot of noise, during his first American tour in 1981 at Duffy’s, in south Minneapolis.
“I think I remember it,” said Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon. “It was more like a big bar.”
Indeed, pale green on the outside, totally rock on the inside in the back room, where music lovers have arrived after walking past a long blue-collar neighborhood bar.
Did Le Bon ever think that more than 40 years later, Duran Duran would be the headliner of America’s arenas and amphitheaters?
“At first, we weren’t looking at anything 40 years from now. We were looking at a month ahead at most,” Le Bon said last week from London. “One of the things about music and all the hard work is that it really keeps you in the moment.”
Duran Duran will kick off his North American tour on Friday at the Treasure Island Casino Amphitheater in Red Wing. This will be the band’s first date in the United States as newly elected members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“It’s a club we never thought we’d be invited to, being English new romance pop stars, as we’ve been called,” said Le Bon, 63, whose band debuted at The Rock Hall in his first year on the ballot. , while the group was eligible 15 years ago. “We’re actually very, very proud of that. It’s the closest thing to rock ‘n’ roll chivalry.”
Duran Duran, Princess Diana’s favorite band, are treated like royalty in the UK, where they just performed at Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
“We play for royalty,” Le Bon clarified. “That doesn’t make us kings.”
The band has a new album, aptly named “Future Past”, which evokes the past but looks to the future. There are elements of neo-disco, modern pop and synthetic ballad. It sounds like classic Duran Duran with a contemporary vibe.
“Beautiful Lies” is irresistible disco that meets old and new.
“It’s exactly what you thought you’d get if Duran Duran and Giorgio Moroder collaborated,” the singer said.
The powerful ballad’s title track finds Le Bon singing those high notes again, just as he did on early hits “Girls on Film” and “The Wild Boys.”
Coming from the so-called New Romantics movement in England in 1981, Duran Duran never really stuck to a particular sound during 15 studio albums. Part of the reason is a revolving door of guitarists since Andy Taylor left in 1986 (although he returned to the early 2000s for a few years). Among the guitarists on the recordings are Warren Cuccurullo, Nile Rodgers, John Frusciante and Graham Coxon of Blur, on “Future Past”.
“I think that worked in our favor,” Le Bon said of the spinning guitar slot. “It helped define the different tones we have on our albums. We don’t want to do the same album twice.”
Rodgers, who has produced several Duran Duran projects and will open for the band on Treasure Island, agrees.
“It’s a major factor because every guitarist that’s been with Duran has added a really strong musical element when it comes to songwriting,” Rodgers said in a separate interview.
“And let’s give a whole lot of credit to Simon Le Bon’s sense of melody and harmony.”
Rodgers on Duran, Dylan, Prince
Rodgers, who landed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 in the “Award of Musical Excellence” for his legacy as a producer/songwriter, has worked on countless recordings – “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, to name a few. And he co-wrote “Cuff It” on Beyoncé’s new album “Renaissance.” He also leads his own successful band, Chic, known for “Le Freak” and “Good Times”.
“Duran Duran is like my other band,” said Rodgers, who will likely play a few songs with Duran Duran at Treasure Island. “As Simon Le Bon said the other day when we played the Queen’s Jubilee, ‘Nil is like the other member of Duran.’ “
Rodgers has worked with Minnesota’s two most famous musicians, Bob Dylan and Prince.
He produced Dylan singing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” for the soundtrack to the 1996 film “Feeling Minnesota.”
“Most registrations fail [commercially]. At least if you give the artist a great experience and a good time and you do the best job you can, then you’ve done your job. We were having so much fun. [Dylan] said, ‘Did you ever think you’d work with a guy named Robert Zimmerman?’ I said, ‘Did you ever think you’d work with a drummer named Omar Hakim?'”
Rodgers has never recorded with Prince, but they were on stage together at the 2014 Essence Festival in New Orleans during Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”
“We have a routine where we blow people up. This time the response was crazy. I looked to my left and there was Prince. You can go to YouTube and see it. Prince never took it off. It was just someone in the audience filming. You know how he always took things away. Prince reposted it that night and said no words.
Hybrid of Chic, Sex Pistols
When Duran Duran formed in 1978, the band was inspired by “the Studio 54 scene”.
“Real funky disco is such an important part of what made Duran Duran Duran Duran,” Le Bon said. “We like to say we’d like to do a hybrid of Chic and the Sex Pistols.”
As much as any band in the early 80s, Duran Duran benefited from the rise of MTV. The video for her third single, “Girls on Film”, was shot two weeks after MTV debuted in 1981, but had to be edited for daytime television. Duran Duran set new standards – and hearts flutter – with music videos for “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio” from his second album, in 1982.
It wasn’t just about having creative directors like Godley & Creme and Russell Mulcahy. Le Bon studied theater at the University of Birmingham.
“There was a kind of self-awareness and encampment in a lot of [music acts’ videos]. But you could still see they were playing. Whereas when we did something like ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’, I was able to do that kind of character from ‘Raiders of Lost Ark’ and sound like I really meant it. I think that’s been a big part of our success with the videos.”
During the pandemic, Le Bon got involved in other media, as co-host of “WHOOSH!”, a longtime Sirius XM show he and Duranie Katy Krassner talk about music on.
“It really opened up my horizons for me. I really cherish new music now,” he said. “It took a few skins off my musical sensibility. I appreciate music more. I bring some of those ideas into the world of Duran Duran. I owe a lot of the sounds on the track ‘Future Past’ to my obsession with a track by Tame Impala remixed by Four Tet Big bold synthesizer sounds.
A love of music – new and otherwise – is what keeps Le Bon and his friends Duran Duran, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Roger Taylor (no relation) going.
“We bond in that the four of us are much more creative than if the four of us were working alone. We love working together. We inspire each other. We surprise each other. We love each other. When we’re not on tour , we see each other socially. We’ve developed a real respect for each other over the years.”
And there’s another big reason they’re staying together: “We all split the revenue equally between us.”
Opening: Nile Rodgers and Chic.
When: 7 p.m. Fri.
Where: Amphitheater at Treasure Island Casino, Red Wing.
Tickets: $39 to $159; ticasino.com