Today’s Guest: Nick Rhodes, keyboard player, Duran Duran
(NOTE: One of the wildest concerts I ever attended as a music critic was Duran Duran at Florida’s Lakeland Civic Center in March 1984. It was louder than hell and quite fun. A few days before the show, I did a telephone interview with the band’s keyboard player, Nick Rhodes. Pretty cool dude considering the pop music world was all over him and his band mates. Below you’ll find the best moments from our conversation, followed by my review of the show a few days later. Here’s a crazy thought: the 13-year-old girls I interviewed in my review are now in their late 40s. Whoa. — Bob Andelman)
Duran Duran is on the bullet train of pop stardom, moving fast across the horizon, picking up new admirers at every stop.
They are five good-looking, well-dressed, wealthy young Englishmen ranging in age from 21 to 25. Only one, lead guitarist Andy Taylor, is married. That caused his fan mail to drop precipitously). The rest – keyboard player Nick Rhodes, drummer Roger Taylor, bass guitarist John Taylor (the Taylors are unrelated), and lead vocalist Simon Le Bon – are all single.
And, as we all now know, “Simon Le Bon wears blue underpants.” So began a profile of Duran Duran in Rolling Stone magazine earlier this month.
THE MEMBERS of Duran Duran were not amused. “It was pathetic,” keyboardist Rhodes says of the Rolling Stone article. “ . . . When I open to an article in a magazine, I don’t expect to read about the color of somebody’s underpants.” Duran Duran’s public relations firm, however, includes the article in the band’s publicity materials- reprinted on blue paper, in blue ink.
Duran Duran – named for an angel in the Roger Vadim film Barbarella, which starred Jane Fonda – has become rock’s first major success story of the 1980s, after a rocky start in the United States. The band’s first album, Duran Duran, was hardly noticed in this country on its release in 1981. A small following developed through a second concert blitz, but record sales were still negligible.
NICK RHODES interview excerpt: “(The Beatles comparisons) are flattering but, I mean, we can’t take them seriously. It is 20 years later, and things are radically different. The Beatles changed society, and at the moment, I don’t think it’s time for a rock or pop group to change society. I think the only comparison possible is the reaction we get and the fact we are a band of five recognizable individuals.”
When the album Rio was released, Duran Duran came back to a cult audience at venues such as Philadelphia’s East Side Club – “no wider than my hotel room, maybe 20 feet wide,” Rhodes said in a telephone interview last week. We couldn’t get all the gear up (on stage).”
IN JANUARY 1983, “Hungry Like the Wolf,” a single from the Rio album, took off in America. “We had given up on the Rio album,” said Rhodes. “Suddenly it’s in the top five. And then a month later they released another single (“Rio”) and that charted and another one (“Hold Back the Rain”) and that charted. We thought: Something’s going on over there.”
Something was going on. MTV, the video music channel, was soaring in appeal and influence, and the exotic textures, locales and handsomeness of Duran Duran blended to create the first true video sensations.
The current tour underscores the importance of TV to the band: All concert dates utilize a huge video screen suspended over the stage.
American radio slotted a number of Duran Duran songs into rotation. Programmers even reached back to the debut album for “Girls on Film” after the saucy, mud-wrestling video clip attracted attention.
The band’s third album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, released in November, has already spawned two top ten singles, “Union of the Snake” and “New Moon on Monday.” Next track to be sent up the charts will be “The Reflex,” which Rhodes called “the song Duran Duran has been trying to make for four years. It’s got complex polyrhythms, but the impression is of something that is danceable and unusual with a simple melody. I don’t think it’s going to be our biggest hit; I wish it would be.”
AN EXTENDED dance version of “The Reflex” has been remixed by Nile Rogers (producer of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”) for release to record stations and dance clubs.
Duran Duran’s current American tour – sponsored by Coca-Cola – has been a hot ticket since the first date in Seattle last month. Two shows at Madison Square Garden in New York sold out in a matter of hours. The 10,000 tickets to Monday’s Lakeland concert took a little longer – eight days.
“It’s phenomenal, a lot more than we expected,” Rhodes said. “To top it all off, when I went on to play (in Seattle), I froze for 30 seconds. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Much has been made of the similarities in mania for Duran Duran and the Beatles. Rhodes rejects the comparisons: “They’re flattering but, I mean, we can’t take them seriously. It is 20 years later, and things are radically different. The Beatles changed society, and at the moment, I don’t think it’s time for a rock or pop group to change society. I think the only comparison possible is the reaction we get and the fact we are a band of five recognizable individuals.”
DURAN DURAN has been criticized by some as just another of the welter ‘of bands whose sound is a mush of synthesizers. On the album Seven and the ‘Ragged Tiger, for instance, Rhodes said that, where there might be one or two guitars, one could find four or five synthesizers. While he grants that synthesizers can make a band’s sound sluggish through overuse, Rhodes defended Duran Duran’s use of them.
“I view sound as a cube,” he said. “Instead of sounding flat, you’ve got different frequencies, one above the other, actually three-dimensional like the cube. You can position the sound anywhere within that cube with echoes, reverb, delays and frequencies. You can take a frequency sort of backwards into the cube by adding some reverb at a certain frequency. The best overall sound comes from having the sound at the very back, the very top, the very bottom, the sides (and) the middle. to fill out that cube you need to put down a lot of things, but they don’t have to be that loud and obvious.
“The guitars and keyboards within Duran Duran play a very similar role. I can play something very rhythmic or use a sequencer, or Andy can play a very rhythmic guitar part. Alternatively, I can play a strong melody, a lead-line, or Andy can play it. Andy and I work closely within those layers, and we decide between us who is going to play the melody and chords, and how much. Maybe a fast song suits more guitar, or a slower, moody song suits a little more synth. We balance it out.”
RHODES SAID he wants to fill the songs of Duran Duran with varying textures without seeming cluttered. “You can only whistle one note at a time, so the more complex a tune becomes, the harder it is to whistle. Simplicity is the art of music.”
Rhodes does not confine his talents to t music. A collection of his photographs, titled Abstract Polaroids. will be released in June. A series of his original screen prints will be exhibited later in the year, and he also plans to film and score an eight-minute movie.
As 10,000 fans wait for Duran Duran to perform Monday night in Lakeland, Rhodes will be warming up with the video game Asteroids.
“It starts the adrenaline build-up,” he said. “When you know there’s that many people out there, you have to prepare yourself mentally and get in the right frame of mind for going on stage. (The fans) make an incredible amount of noise. They’re very enthusiastic; so uninhibited and into the music and dancing and just enjoying themselves. I wouldn’t swap ’em for the world. It still sends a shiver up my spine very night when the curtains open, and there they are,” he admitted.
REVIEW: Duran Duran fans explode with energy
By Bob Andelman
March 28, 1984
Duran Duran members wear earplugs. They must – their fans here were twice as loud as the British rock band was.
Early on Monday night, lead singer Simon Le Bon seemed to be reacting to the tremendous swell of noise in the jam-packed Lakeland Civic Center when he turned his back on the crowd in apparent anguish and pointed with both hands to his temples.
Like everyone else, he soon adjusted.
By “Girls on Film,” the band’s second encore, Le Bon asked “So ya like makin’ noise, d’ya?” He then turned 10,000 screaming fans into a chorus line.
A sea of pinks, grays and whites – official Duran Duran colors – made the human wonderama appear surrealistic as it clapped and swayed as one.
AFTER THE RED and white curtains of corporate sponsor Coca-Cola parted, they revealed a smartly designed split-level set of Grecian inspiration, complete with towering marble pillars to the rear.
(Coke dollars and curtains aside, the Lakeland Civic Center serves Pepsi, the drink endorsed by that other pop sensation, Michael Jackson.)
It wasn’t hard to see why comparisons to the Beatles have arisen. While Duran Duran has not come near to achieving the musical ability of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, they have inspired the same devotion in their supporters that the Beatles had in the few years they performed live.
And no doubt about it, women of all ages love the five Durans.
Teddy bears, roses, love letters, hats and more personal items sailed through the air and flooded the stage all through the near two-hour show.
“They were absolutely great, a lot of energy. even better than I thought it would be,” said Lorraine Bailey of New Smyrna Beach. Mrs. Bailey was in attendance with her 13-year-old daughter, although who brought whom to the show is questionable. “We both are fans. I even got a drum stick!”
Kerri Wharton, 12, and her friend Nancy Mongiovi, 13, both of Tarpon Springs, thought the concert was “great.” Kerri likes bass guitarist John Taylor best; Nancy would only say that Girls on Film was her favorite song.
THERE WERE ALSO some men in the audience.
“I’m here for the women,” admitted Seminole’s Dan Johnson, 18. “The music – it’s all right.”
Front-loading the show with one hit after the other – “Is There Something I Should Know?”, “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “The Reflex,” “New Moon on Monday” and “Union of the Snake” – was unusual but highly effective, playing to the tremendous level of energy in the room.
Later came “Save a Prayer” and the first of two encores, “Rio,” which featured auxiliary band member Andy Hamilton on saxophone. During the extended version of “Girls on Film,” not only did the audience participate, but everyone in Duran Duran took a shot in the spotlight, including percussionist Raphael De Jesus and backup singers B.J. Nelson and Charmaine Burch. At one point, Ie Bon took control of a video camera and focused on the audience, surprising a girl taking a picture of him and another waving her crutches in the air.
The musical performances were quite good, taking into account a sound system pushed to the edge to compete with screams, squeals and other noises of delight. Sound, with a few exceptions, was excellent under the circumstances.
Another valuable part of the program was the huge video screen above the stage so admirers in the back of the arena could see their idols as well as those people crazy enough to be in the front row crunch, While the video equipment has been used more and more in outdoor shows at Orlando’s Tangerine Bowl (by the Rolling Stones, Police and Journey), it worked even more effectively indoors.
BEING POSITIONED near the stage was potentially more hazardous to the health than at other shows, although there were no reports of serious injuries. One nurse on duty estimated up to 300 persons were treated for overheating or hyperventilation, the result of being “packed in like sardines.”
Between acts, security guards onstage poured water on fans to keep them cool.
Major Bruce Hopkins of Civic Center Security reported no major difficulties. “It was a beautiful crowd,” he said glowingly. “A lotta young girls, everybody was wild. They had their adrenaline going, they just wanted to see their favorite stars.”
One mother who had chaperoned her own teen-age daughter and three friends was less impressed. “I thought they’d have more control over (fans) by the front I hope the girls had sense to sit somewhere. They got away from me at the beginning; I don’t know where they’re at,” Dee Stahley of St. Petersburg said.
Sally Schmidt, a University of Florida sophomore from Sarasota, found her way in and out of the backstage door and Duran Duran’s dressing rooms after the show. She described some of the presents the band had received – a love letter to Simon on a computer printout, a sketch of Nick in a gangster hat done with colored pencils, silk orchids, and “lots of love letters.”
Also found in the dressing room was cherry cheesecake, vanilla cake – “and milk, no soda pop. They were also drinking Beck’s Beer,” Miss Schmidt said.
THE PERFORMANCE by Tampa’s A New Personality at the opening of the show was nothing less than superb.
Making just their second showing as an opening act (the first was with X at the London Victory Club). the band came out hot and blistered their way through local favorites like Break the Mold, Essential Things and Killing Smile.
Their final song, Sweet Misery, was the best. By then Darren Rademaker, Brent Rademaker, Wylie Allen and Steve Fisher had simply overwhelmed the audience. As an unannounced act, they performed the near-impossible feat of walking away to tremendous applause from an audience generally too young to have heard them before in any area night club.
“You walk out there and 10,000 people start screaming. It was the biggest rush in the world,” Darren Rademaker said. The band was nervous, he continued, until the first song started.
A New Personality has already been invited to open for Duran Duran in Miami, and is under consideration for more dates.