Sunday, July 21, 2013

Live Review: Blondie, Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow 01.07.13

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Debbie Harry, the photogenic frontwoman of Blondie, received as much press coverage and magazine covers as today's worldwide pop stars.  Yet she was always keen to stress that "Blondie is a group".

Fast-forward to 2013, and when I tell people that we are going to see Blondie, the automatic reaction is "oh is she still going?" and "oh yes, Debbie Harry" but Blondie is very much a group, which continues to change, evolve and stay relevant.  Since their  late 90s comeback they've not been content to just rest on their laurels and have continued to record new material and carry on gigging, in an effort to prove that they're more than just a retro novelty.

This was our 5th Blondie concert - our 5th in 15 years! - since their comeback tour in 1998, when they performed at Glasgow Barrowland, which combined the old hits with some new songs from what was at that time their forthcoming comeback album, the fabulous "No Exit". Since that time they've released two new studio albums: "The Curse Of Blondie" and "Panic of Girls" and are about to release "Ghosts of Download".

But before the band took to the stage, there's the small matter of a support act.  Previous support acts at Blondie gigs over the years have included The Supernaturals (Barrowland), Annie Christian (SECC), Hugh Cornwell (Clyde Auditorium), a Chris Difford-less Squeeze (Clyde Auditorium) so expectations were high.  However, the support band, Lexy and the Kill, were solid although unspectacular.  (Although I have listened to a couple of their songs since the show and actually remembered them, so they weren't that forgettable after all I guess). A group of male musicians fronted by a blonde female singer....ooh, sounds familiar!

After the usual break for soundchecking etc, it was soon time for Blondie to take to the stage, given the legendary warm Glasgow welcome by an all-ages audience spanning everything from teenagers to the original "over 40s" (and way beyond!) fanbase.

At 9.00 pm the band took to the stage, kicking off with a no-nonsense "One Way Or Another" (which of course recently had all the life sucked out of it by a certain boyband in the name of charidee). Debbie was dressed in her tour outfit of hooded coral dress (or top and skirt, I couldn't work it out), metallic platform trainers and what looked like a curtain of ivy(!), which she eventually shed.

The 2013 vintage of Blondie is made up of just three original members: Deborah "Debbie" Harry, guitarist Chris Stein who is as cool as ever in his shades, and the drumming legend that is the one and only Clem Burke. His mop of hair may be grey now but he's still in great form.  He's sat at his drumkit behind a wall of perspex, and dressed in the famous John Lennon 'New York City' T-shirt, attention-seeking his way through the gig with drum solos and throwing his drumsticks in the air at regular intervals.  His antics are worth the price of admission alone, although some reviewers were a bit annoyed that he was maybe just seeking attention a little too much, however that's his unique selling point :)  Recent recruits Matt Katz-Bohen (keyboards) and Tommy Kessler (guitar) bring a freshness to the band, even providing vocals on the verses of a revamped and lower-register "Maria" before Debbie sings the chorus.  Kessler throws some rock-god shapes during the show, which has received mixed reviews from the critics, although I didn't really have a problem with this. Based on my experiences of seeing Blondie live over the last 15 years, the one thing that stands out is that they are a totally kick-ass rock band live, more so than their recorded output ever hinted at.   So if they wanna rock, then go right ahead.

But this gig was completely different from any other Blondie gigs we had been to.  For this gig was as much about what the band didn't play, as what they did.  No "Rip Her To Shreds".  No "X Offender". No "Denis".  No "Sunday Girl".  Nothing (apart from "Maria") from "No Exit".  And, horror of horrors, no "Rapture". Yes, my favourite number in the Blondie live set was omitted, in favour of other numbers from their forthcoming album and a couple from "Panic of Girls" which, to be fair to the band, I wasn't all that familiar with anyway.  There are also cover versions: one of an Ellie Goulding song (which goes over my head as, singles apart, I'm not all that familiar with that singer's music catalogue) and during the encore they tackle Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax", an amusing choice but all in all, a pretty pointless one.  ("...when they could have played Rapture instead...." - oh, you get the idea).

Perhaps the omissions were more about the changes in Debbie's vocal register, and I felt at times that she was investing more vocal energy in the new numbers rather than the hits.  So the overall effect was a more disjointed live experience than the usual Blondie shows that we are used to, and I was a little bit annoyed on the night, however have taken a more rational view over the past couple of weeks and accept the need to musically evolve and move on.  However, there was no doubt that the majority of the audience were there for the old hits, and I don't think that Blondie would ever dare to omit the likes of "Call Me", "Atomic", "Union City Blue", "Hanging On The Telephone" and of course the mighty "Heart of Glass" from their live set!

01.07.2013 also happened to be Ms Harry's 68th birthday, a fact which was most definitely not ignored by the Glasgow audience who chanted 'happy birthday to you....' throughout the show and this fact was finally acknowledged, with Debbie talking about acting her age..."f*** that, it's too late now!" Absolutely!  What an inspirational attitude, and long may she never have to act her age!

Blondie certainly proved that they're not just a retro act, although they need to find the right balance between the old hits and the new songs.  Maybe this time, the balance was tipped a little too much in favour of the new(er) songs, but despite that, we look forward to seeing them again.  Until the next time....

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