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Bewitching Harry works magic

BLONDIE - Palais Theatre, St Kilda, August 13, 2003

theage – 15th August 2003

By Jo Roberts

“It’s such an ancient pitch/ but one I wouldn’t switch/ ’cause there’s no nicer witch than you.”

Frank Sinatra may well have been singing about Blondie singer Deborah Harry when he recorded Witchcraft all those years ago. The strains of the timeless classic filled the Palais Theatre on Wednesday night, as a prelude to what fans hoped would be a night of even more classics from one of the finest pop bands of the 1970s.

The New-Jersey bred Blondie earned their fame not only for crafting perfect pop-punk tunes, but for being fronted by that bewitching woman of the blonde shock, cupid’s-bow mouth and impossibly high cheekbones, Deborah Harry.

As part of their first Australian tour since 1978 (apart from a triumphant one-off appearance at the 1998 Falls Festival in Lorne), this sellout show was the first of two nights at the Palais for Blondie. Any fears of a flimsily realised “revival” tour were quickly dispelled as an energetic Harry and band treated the mainly 30-plus fans to a fun, memory-laden feast of timeless punk-pop.

Still a bombshell at 58, Harry was as confident as ever (although it’s got to be said she never was, and still ain’t, a great dancer), and had the front rows on their feet from the get-go. The band dotted the set with tracks from their 11th and latest album, The Curse of Blondie (including the rather fine single, Good Boys), but it was no secret that fans had come to hear the hits.

They didn’t have to wait long; third song in, the band launched into Dreaming, following that with Hangin’ On the Telephone, a straight-ahead rock version of Call Me and the wonderful Atomic. The latter tested Harry, who often failed to sustain the song’s long, anthemic verse phrases, but who cared when blitzing versions of the gems that followed – Sunday Girl, Shayla, One Way or Another, the amazing Rapture (fans whooped as she started the song’s famous rap) – had most people on their feet.

An encore of the Ramones’ Pet Cemetery (a tribute to her late friend Joey Ramone) and Heart of Glass was an incendiary finale.

Just two original Blondie members – drummer Clem Burke (an absolute standout) and keyboardist Jimmy Destri – joined Harry on this tour, after family commitments kept founding guitarist/songwriter Chris Stein at home. There were times Stein’s presence was missed, such as when the two fill-in guitarists – Jimmy Bones and a man introduced only as “Delicious”(??) alternated on lead – traded Stein’s punk sensibility for stadium-rock lead licks.

Harry was inspiring. Sure, sometimes the voice didn’t carry, the occasional verse lyrics mixed up, but fans didn’t seem to mind one bit. Much of the appeal of Blondie – apart from the incredible songs – is everything Harry stands for; a model of resilience, both personally and professionally, who proves rock’n’roll past the age of 50 is not exclusively a male domain. She’s still punk, still sexy, still in charge.

As the audience filed out at encore’s end, the theatre again filled with the sounds of Sinatra; this time, Lady is a Tramp. Lyrically, it is a song that in fact doesn’t rubbish its muse, but pays tribute to a beguiling, freedom-loving woman who does things her own way. You got it in one, Deb.


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