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Blondie review – a mixed set list of old and new for a rapt audience

ABC, Glasgow - Blondie's performance is a bit neat, but potent enough to bring the fantasy of a punk past back to life

theguardian.com – 28th August 2014

By Graeme Virtue

Generation-spanning fanbase … Blondie in Glasgow. Photograph: Peter Kaminski

“Can you move your hips like this?” asks Debbie Harry, demonstrating an economical dance that is more Darcey Bussell than Shakira. Most of the 1,300-capacity crowd instantly mimic her sway. “This is not an aerobics class!” she clarifies. Fair enough, but Harry, who turned 69 last month, might want to consider releasing a workout video – after all, she’s retained a generation-spanning fanbase who would try anything to be more like their idol.

Blondie are in the middle of a patchwork world tour to mark the 40th anniversary of their formation. There are criss-crossing European festival appearances – Glastonbury in June, Ireland’s Electric Picnic this coming weekend – sprinkled with dates in the most intimate venues the band have played in years.

If the touring schedule seems random, there’s still an organising principle behind the anniversary: recent album Ghosts of Download came packaged with a rerecorded greatest hits, a conscious attempt to knit together Blondie’s iconic new wave past and less recognisable present. Tonight’s set list is equally twinned, with every stone-cold classic followed by a newer song. This seesawing should feel like a dilution, but the regulation works surprisingly well. You’re never more than four minutes away from the next hit.

No strangers to repurposing covers, they conflate the seductive pitchbend vocals of Rapture with the Beastie Boys’ Fight for Your Right, and inject a shot of Groove Is in the Heart into The Tide Is High. Maria – the 1999 single that legitimised their first comeback, at least in the UK – has earned its place in the classics column, judging by how many audience members are word-perfect. Harry inevitably remains the focal point throughout, but longstanding drummer Clem Burke is clearly having fun. Chris Stein seems more aloof, delegating guitar solos and deciding unilaterally to race ahead with Atomic’s signature riff during the final push.

After 40 years, 10 albums and 40m record sales, there’s a neatness to Blondie in 2014 that seems a little antithetical to their punk roots – they never seemed like a band who could be explained via spreadsheet. But this gig is potent enough to bring an audience fantasy to life, providing at least a glimpse of what it must have been like to see them in a New York City sweatbox 40 years ago: hot, and cool.

13 September. Box office: 0844-477 2000. Venue: O2 Academy Birmingham.


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