How Duran Duran Uses Challenging Rarities to Keep Shows Fresh
After more than 40 years, Duran Duran could easily rest on their laurels. While many bands of the era are content to play their expected hits, the Birmingham new wave icons prefer to keep things interesting onstage.
The band is preparing to begin the latest U.S. tour leg in support of 2021’s Future Past. As bassist John Taylor tells UCR, they’re pleased with the reception to their latest LP. “I think that the hardcore fans appreciated it. You know it’s not going to land the way our albums did in the ‘80s,” he says. “It’s going to take a while. But that’s the nice thing about doing lengthy tours like this is that you get to slowly unpack the newer songs, just a handful here and there.”
The current set list is a mix of necessary catalog staples along with more recent material. Duran Duran has always included some unexpected deep cuts for their most devoted fans. Last year they unearthed the first album-era B-side “Faster Than Light,” which hadn’t performed onstage since 1982.
In 2023, with the 40th anniversary of the band’s landmark Rio album still on everyone's radar, “Last Chance on the Stairway” was added for the first time in more than a decade.
You've had the opportunity to play material from the new album in the past year. Are there still songs that you're hoping to work up for the live set?
Definitely. We were in rehearsals in London a couple of weeks ago and we started working up the title track, which we’ve yet to play on stage. But it’s a slow song and [those] are tough, because we’ve got a couple of big ballads that we always have to play. It’s a lot about real estate when you’re planning a show like this. There are cornerstone songs like “Ordinary World” and “Rio,” “Come Undone,” Hungry Like the Wolf,” you have to play those songs, you know? People are going to want their money back if you don’t play those songs, so you build the show around those cornerstones. What you’re left with, it’s like, “Well, what are the new songs we’re going to play?” If anything, we tend to argue more about what those songs are. I have my favorites, Simon [Le Bon] has his favorites, but the other aspect of that is that we can flip them from show to show. We don’t always have to play the same three new songs every night. We can move them around a little bit.
I'm always impressed by how much of the band's history is represented in the set list. One rarity in the show recently has been "Last Chance on the Stairway."
Nick [Rhodes] said to me about two months ago, “I think we should have a go at ‘Last Chance on the Stairway.’ It’s the last song off of the Rio album that we haven’t played in many, many years.” I was like, oh, man, really? Really, you want to play that? I was really hoping that it would just get away. Then I had a listen to it and I was like, “Oh, God!” It’s so awful when you get so impressed by something that you did when you were young. But I was so impressed by the song and what we were all playing. We brought it up in rehearsals, and Roger [Taylor] and I started playing it with Dom [Brown], our guitar player, and it was like, “Wow, this is frickin’ amazing!” You know, as long as I can keep playing the notes - because it’s so many notes! But it’s so fun to play it in the new show. And again, whether we’ll be playing that every night? We don’t know. That’s a secondary pile, which it’s like, we could play it, it depends on the length of the show. That’s very much a “die-hards” song. But I don’t know, I think Rio, it’s probably the masterwork in the catalog, that you could almost play any song off that album and the audience would enjoy it.
Watch Duran Duran Perform 'Last Chance on the Stairway' in Dublin
"Faster Than Light" was played a couple of times last year. It seems pretty fearless to go back to a song like that.
That’s another idea of his! I mean, Nick’s crazy. He comes up with these … they’re almost like challenges, you know? He throws them down: “What about that?” That was another one. I mean, how many notes do you want me to play, man? [Laughs] The funny thing, Roger and I joke about some of the early material, because we’re playing so fast. We’re essentially punk rockers that are trying to play funky disco. We’re like, “If we were mature, shouldn’t we be slowing these songs down?” Like, relaxing them, as I would call it? But that’s just not our style. We have to do it as it was recorded, and at the end of the day, it’s not a bad thing to do, because it keeps you in shape. It stops us from getting lazy and languid.
Fans have been pretty curious to know what your experience has been playing your new Rio Dream signature bass.
It’s been so good. You know, I did the signature bass [with] Sheldon Dingwall, who makes the basses that I use. He asked me if I was interested in doing a signature bass. I kind of was like, “Yeah, sure.” He had this idea that he wanted to use the electronics that were used in the recording of the Rio album. So he went back to Neve, who are these English recording engineers. They build the EQs, recording desks and the [type of] mixing desk that we were using back in the ‘80s. [He] asked them if they would come up with this technology that we could then put into the instrument. So it was kind of radical. I had no idea what it was going to be like. I’m so happy to report that it sounds great in the studio and it sounds great on stage. You know, I was thinking, “Oh, maybe I’ll use it on a couple of songs.” I’m using it on almost everything. It’s a great piece of gear, I’m happy to say.
It's not necessarily the norm for the bass to ride as high in the mix as yours does. It made me think of Chris Squire of Yes, who played very much the same way. Did you know him?
I met him maybe twice, and that was just because his daughter was a fan of Duran for a moment. But I love Chris Squire’s bass playing. He’s like the square peg in that band. It’s like he’s the punk in Yes. I find that when he’s in the rhythm section, they’re always worth listening to. He’s like some weird hybrid of Paul McCartney and Sid Vicious. He’s highly musical. I miss him, actually. He was a great, great musician.
Duran Duran has accomplished so much as a band. What's left on the bucket list?
I think if you’re fortunate enough to make your name as an artist, whether you’re a musical artist or a writer or anything, you really just want to be able to just keep doing it and not just for yourself. We want to maintain a substantial enough audience that justifies our going back into the studio every couple of years and writing songs and finding things to write about. I don’t really need anything outside of that. Nick would give you a very different answer to that. He would have a long shopping list of conceptual projects he’d like to engage in. But I don’t really think like that, actually. I just want to be able to maintain my health, which kind of is equal to my playing ability in a way. I want to maintain my friendships and respect for the guys so I want to go back into the studio with them and just keep doing it, really. Even though there are other bands that have been before us when you start getting [older, things can change]. Everybody’s in their 60s now and obviously, it’s challenging. This was supposed to be a young person’s game, right? If you want to be something other than a legacy artist, you’ve got to really rise to the challenge, I think. So for me, it’s just about maintaining the friendship and the respect of the other band members. If I can keep that, then it keeps us working together, and then who knows what might happen.
Watch Duran Duran's 'Anniversary' Video