Jazz Aspen Labor Day: Duran Duran’s John Taylor still ‘Hungry’
The Aspen Times
If you go ...
What: Duran Duran.
When: Sunday, 5 p.m.
Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park
Cost: Tickets are sold out.
More information: Tickets and more information can be found at www.jazzspensnowmass.org.
Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience schedule
Saturday, Sept. 3
3 p.m. — Black Pistol Fire
5 p.m. — Thievery Corporation
7:30 p.m. — The Killers
Sunday, Sept. 4
3 p.m. — Corinne Bailey Rae
5 p.m. — Duran Duran
7:30 p.m. — Stevie Wonder
At some point in the late 1980s, as Duran Duran was coming down slightly from the stratospheric success of its first four albums, bassist John Taylor recalled that someone criticized the synth-pop pioneers for still playing some of their early hits in concert.
Taylor bought into the idea for a while, he said in a recent phone interview, growing a little bitter about dusting off songs like “Girls on Film” and “Planet Earth.” But the cynicism didn’t last long. When the band plays the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience on Sunday afternoon, he, Roger Taylor, Simon Le Bon and their band will rip through the era-defining hits from the ’80s and ’90s, alongside a handful of new tracks (and maybe a cover or two).
“I think there’s a reason why popular songs are popular — they’re fun to listen to, and they’re fun to play,” Taylor said.
He revived his passion and pride in the material after that long-ago period of doubt when he thought about Shakespearean actors and the art of keeping the bard’s words alive and making them feel contemporary. Thirty-five years after their self-titled debut album, that’s what he and Duran Duran have sought to do with their trove of classics on recent tours.
“We’ve got our material and our job is to perform it with as much freshness and joie de vivre as we can — and that’s what we do,” Taylor said. “We’ve written the show to accommodate our own needs, to maintain that sense of excitement. So when we hit ‘The Reflex’ we’re like, all right! We’re gonna play ‘The Reflex’ now!”
New music, ’80s values
The band has been on its current tour more or less constantly since September of last year, filling arenas and earning raves for crowd-pleasing concerts that showcase the hits but don’t devolve into tired nostalgia sets.
“I think, in some ways, it’s the best show we’ve put together in a long time,” Taylor said. “We try to please all the people all the time. We’re hitting all the important bullet points of the band’s career, overlaying that with a contemporary veneer so it doesn’t feel too historic, so it feels kind of fresh.”
While the band is duty bound to play “Come Undone,” “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf” and so on, they’re also playing a handful of tracks from their most recent album — last year’s “Paper Gods.”
“There’s something about contextualizing that — you can give it a freshness so it doesn’t feel like you’re watching an ’80s show,” Taylor said.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the ’80s.
“Everything we do is imbued with ’80s values,” he said. “So there are always going to be things you see in a Duran Duran show that are going to be reminiscent of that era. We carry that proudly.”
Over the past year, the fans in the crowds at Duran Duran shows have expanded far beyond the Gen X-ers who were around as the Brits shaped the culture of the early MTV era. You could credit the re-emergence of synth-pop, the rise of electronic dance music and the legions of young musicians across genres who point to Duran Duran as an influence, but the demographic shift is still a bit baffling to Taylor.
“There’s an open-mindedness that’s happening,” Taylor said. “We laugh, like, ‘Did you see that kid in the front row with the AC/DC T-shirt losing his s—?’ When did that start happening? When did it become OK for a kid to come to a Duran Duran concert and lose his s— as an AC/DC fan?”
Taylor has begun cataloging the T-shirts he sees on the tour from other bands — he’s seen Madonna, Kanye West and David Bowie among them.
New generation of fans
The new generation of Duran Duran fans might be epitomized by Shamir, the 21-year old singer and songwriter (of “On the Regular” fame) who opened for the band during a run of shows this year and who released a memorably playful cover of “Hungry Like the Wolf” early this year. He points to Duran Duran as an influence, as do fellow Jazz Aspen headliners The Killers and a host of artists.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve written enough songs that are out there and our songs have spoken to a lot of people,” Taylor said. “So you might not be a Duran Duran fan, but you’re a fan of ‘Come Undone’ from when you were breaking up with your girlfriend and you heard it everywhere. It’s an amazing gift. … I think one of the legacies of the band is the tremendous diversity that we have. You see it in the audience, and it feels good.”
Along with the classics, the band is playing four “Paper Gods” songs on most nights. Those tracks have stayed on the set list, Taylor said, because they’ve continued to go over well.
“They’re really the cornerstones of the set, even though on top of that we’ve got to play all the songs from the ’80s and ’90s,” he said. “I think audiences appreciate them and that’s why we’re still playing them. … It puts them in touch with the now. Rather than, like, ‘Oh, me and the wife, we just like ’80s music.’”
He’s familiar with the trope of classic bands sending fans to the beer stand and the bathroom when they break out some unfamiliar new material. That hasn’t been the case with the “Paper Gods” songs.
“There’s a misnomer that the audience doesn’t want to hear new material,” he said. “Bullocks! They do want to hear it. What they want to hear is new material that they like. And that’s our job.”
And, like everyone at the festival this weekend, Taylor and his band mates are enthusiastic about seeing Stevie Wonder, who plays immediately after them. They’ve never shared a stage before.
“We’re so excited to be playing with Stevie Wonder — what an honor that is,” Taylor said. “We might have to beg for a picture.”