Pop Quiz: Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran


Aidin Vaziri | You might have noticed that a Duran Duran revival is in full swing. Sure, the British pop band scored a majority of its biggest hits a few decades back, but last year saw the release of “Paper Gods,” an album that managed to conjure the electricity of the early years with a slew of top-notch collaborators like Mark Ronson, Janelle Monae, Kiesza, Nile Rodgers and Lindsay Lohan. The group is once again on tour — minus keyboardist Nick Rhodes, who is out for a family emergency while Amanda “MNDR” Warner fills in — with a stop scheduled at the Outside Lands festival. We spoke with singer Simon Le Bon on the 36th anniversary of the classic lineup’s first live date, and he told us things have never been better.

Q: Do you ever go to festivals as a civilian?

A: I’ve been to festivals, but quaint little English ones with like 800 people. It’s a weird thing for me. I like going as a performer. I’m used to going backstage, telling people what to do — having them polish my shoes, brush my hair.

Q: This is the first time you have been onstage without Nick in about 35 years. Is it weird?

A: It’s really strange. I want him back as soon as we can have him back. MNDR is amazing. She can play all the parts. She knows all the songs. She looks great onstage. But it’s not Nick Rhodes. That’s all there is to it.

Q: It just occurred to me that this lineup of Duran Duran has probably been together longer than any of the others.

A: How time flies when you’re having fun. We’re really enjoying it. We enjoy making the music as well. It’s got better.

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Pop Quiz: Alice Cooper


Aidin Vaziri | Alice Cooper can’t sit still. Between launching simultaneous campaigns to become the president of the United States and the prime minister of England with a rebooted version of his 1972 hit “Elected,” the 68-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is also spending the summer touring with his own band andHollywood Vampires, the supergroup he fronts with actor Johnny Depp and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. The band — which takes its name from Cooper’s old Los Angeles drinking club with Harry Nilsson, Mickey Dolenz, John Lennon and Keith Moon — performs a mix of classic rock covers and originals from its 2015 self-titled album.

Q: You could be spending the summer at the golf course. What are you doing on tour?

A: I feel more comfortable onstage than off. I would rather be working. My wife and I are built the same. She has been a ballerina since she was 15, and she’s as much of a professional as I am.

Q: How did the Hollywood Vampires come together?

A: Everybody’s pretty good friends. I’ve known Johnny for a while. I knew he was a great guitarist. Really. Joe Perry takes lessons from him. Our drummer Matt Sorum is one of those guys everybody knows. The music business is a bit of a fraternity — everybody knows each other. When you get that many alpha males in one place you would think there’s a lot of ego. With this group, there hasn’t been an argument in three years.

Q: Is this the full Alice Cooper tour with the snake and guillotine and all that?

A: Just the opposite. I’m on two tours right now. I started out in April with my band. And then this tour started. The crazy thing is my show is very constructed and it’s really, really tight. Everybody knows what’s going on at every second. It’s exhausting. The Vampires show — we bill ourselves as the world’s most expensive bar band. We get to be a bar band, only in front of 20,000 or 30,000 people. It’s really a cool thing. Alice Cooper never talks to the audience. When I’m with the Vampires, I talk to them after every song. I’m sort of like the narrator. It’s like a history lesson.

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Pop Quiz: Sergio Mendes


Aidin Vaziri | Sergio Mendes knows how to get people moving. For more than five decades, the Brazilian producer, composer, keyboardist and vocalist has kept fans around the world on their toes with his bossa nova-inspired takes on songs like “The Look of Love,” “Mais Que Nada” and “Daytripper.” He’s winning over new ones too, thanks to his Oscar-nominated work on the soundtracks for the animated films “Rio” and “Rio 2.” This year, he celebrates the release of his breakthrough debut, “Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66.” Mendes also headlines Festival Napa Valley, performing at Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga on Wednesday, July 20. Mendes, 75, spoke to us from his home in Woodland Hills (Los Angeles County).

Q: You lived in the Bay Area when you first moved to the United States. Does it feel like coming home when you visit?

A: It does. I love it. I have nothing but great memories. I used to live in a houseboat in Sausalito and work at the Trident, as well as El Matador on Broadway. Every time I go, I have those memories. It’s a long time ago, but it feels like last week.

Q: You have been playing many of the songs in your set for more than 50 years. What keeps them fresh for you night after night?

A: I love the melodies. The arrangements change because the members of the band change. It’s the same “Fool on the Hill,” but we still enjoy it … I can see the reaction of the people — and now the younger audiences. It’s the power of the song.

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Pop Quiz: Rumer Willis

rumer_willis_aidin_vaziri.jpgAidin Vaziri | Rumer Willis talks in the reserved, clipped tones of someone who has spent her entire life dodging the paparazzi. But when the 27-year-old daughter of Hollywood royalty Bruce Willis and Demi Moore sings — and who knew she could sing? — she really opens up, lending her unexpectedly rich voice to songs made famous by larger-than-life stars such as Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse. Willis, who won the 20th season of “Dancing With the Stars” and played Roxie Hart in the Broadway revival of “Chicago,” brings her cabaret act to Feinstein’s at the Nikko this week. She spoke to us from her home in Los Angeles.

Q: Why did it take so long to get you singing on a stage?

A: I was focusing on acting and just busy with a lot of other stuff. I wanted to go about it the right way. There’s a stigma with people who act or who are children of actors. I wanted to make sure when I did something it came from a place of integrity.

Q: Was it something you always wanted to do?

A: I have always sung, since I was little. I just never put it out there because I wanted to find the right way to go about it. My dad has been such a huge music lover. Growing up, he would always play us cool and interesting music. My taste came from him. My sisters and I used to put shows together and sing in the living room.

Q: So are people coming to the shows because they recognize your name or because they’ve heard you sing and want to hear more?

A: Who knows? For me, as long as I can get people to listen, that’s the only thing that matters to me.

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Pop Quiz: Joanna Newsom

Aidin Vaziri | Joanna Newsom recently released “Divers,” her first new studio album in five years. Since setting out into the world with her 2004 debut, “The Milk-Eyed Mender” — her full-size orchestral harp in tow — the 33-year-old Nevada City native and Mills College alumna has become an indie hero, turned the world onto her eclectic influences ranging from Appalachian folk songs to Renaissance madrigals, and settled down with her husband, actor Andy Samberg. She spoke to us from her home in Los Angeles.

Q: Your latest album alone took five years to make. Do you feel like you have come full circle because you started as an unknown commodity, went out there and proved yourself and now you’re back in a space where there’s no pressure?

A: I think even at the time it wasn’t about proving myself. It was about having an opportunity to potentially play music as my living, as my job. I felt really excited and hoped people would like it, but I never had that plucky, I’m-going-to-prove-myself mentality. I definitely have slowed down a little bit in my process.

Q: Why is that?

A: The overarching structure for this record was so complicated it just took so long. I didn’t even know how long it was going to take. I was working the whole time. So far, I haven’t had that artistic crisis of, why bother? It’s more about waiting for the good idea.

Q: Is it hard to stay in touch with the magic as you grow older and maybe more cynical?

A: I don’t think so. Life pulls me in a lot of different directions, but there’s still this set of priorities that have survived my life. I’ve been really lucky that I get to keep making music; it infuses the act. There’s something sacred with how rare it is that I get to do that.

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Bill Graham’s Legacy Celebrated


Aidin Vaziri | There aren’t many museum exhibitions devoted to the life of a concert promoter. Then again, Bill Graham wasn’t just any concert promoter. And his was no ordinary life.

For a quarter of a century, Graham was rock ’n’ roll’s greatest live music impresario. Between his inconspicuous start with a benefit concert for the San Francisco Mime Troupe at the original Fillmore Auditorium in 1965 to his death at age 60 in a helicopter crash on his way home from a performance by Huey Lewis and the News at the Concord Pavilion in October 1991, the Bay Area mogul fundamentally changed the live music business.

During his reign, Graham, a special inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, established the Fillmore franchise, shepherded the evolution of stadium tours and produced one-of-a-kind rock ’n’ roll events such as the Band’s “Last Waltz” and Live Aid; in the process helping to launch the careers of acts like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin.

This year marks what would have been Graham’s 85th birthday, and to celebrate the occasion, his life story will be the subject of the exhibit “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution,” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, which opens Thursday, March 17 and runs through July 5.

The retrospective, featuring everything from vintage psychedelic concert posters to a battered pair of Keith Richards’ leather boots, was originally produced for the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles last year — inspired by a much smaller show at the Jazz Heritage Center in San Francisco in 2011.

“His particular story, that biographical narrative, has so much richness,” says Lori Starr, the executive director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum. “Great museum shows tell great stories, and his story is a great story.”

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Courtney Love, Opera Singer?


Aidin Vaziri | Looking resplendent with long blond locks and a black cocktail dress accessorized with a pearl necklace and bracelet, Courtney Love slithered onto the stage at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco on Monday night and briefly reminisced about her life in the city, where she was born and spent some formative years.

“I did a lot of drugs here,” she rasped, “and started a lot of imaginary bands.”

The widow of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Love is a singer-songwriter, actor, fashion icon and provocateur who found fame with her real band, Hole, in the 1990s. She was in town to take part in the latest installment of Curran: Under Construction’s innovative “Groundbreakers” series.

The 51-year-old rocker and the playwright-composer Todd Almond were there to talk about their unlikely collaboration, the music-theater piece called “Kansas City Choir Boy,” with Curran Editor at Large Kevin Sessums, a former writer for Vanity Fair and author of two memoirs.

“I’m used to diving into you,” said Love, sizing up the 150 or so audience members who were seated on the stage as well, facing out into the empty theater that — as advertised — is under construction through the end of the year with painter’s tape on the walls and an enormous crystal chandelier dangling just above the mezzanine. “In this, you guys don’t exist.”

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