By Teddy Webb
30th April 2022
BLONDIE + JOHNNY MARR – BRIGHTON CENTRE 28.4.22
There’s no denying it: Blondie are just cool. Even as public opinion shifts on pioneers of classic punk like the Sex Pistols, and even as other alternative acts from their scene fade from view, it’s hard to find someone with a bad word to say about Blondie.
It isn’t surprising, then, that the innovators of the new wave were able to gather such a passionate audience at the Brighton Centre this week even after repeated rescheduling and cancellation incidents due to the pandemic. As Debbie Harry told a dedicated crowd: “It’s been a long f*cking time.”
For anyone like me in the “love The Smiths, hate Morrissey” camp, the first sight of Johnny Marr on this show’s posters must have been a real treat. Despite being better known for his songwriting capabilities than his stage presence, Marr seemed determined to present himself as a true rock star, as charismatic as any great frontman.
He pulled this off a lot better on his own songs, many of which were written during and directly reference the chaos and isolation of the pandemic. ‘Spirit, Power And Soul’ is a particularly uplifting example, combining Marr’s guitar prowess with a synth line that’s simultaneously nostalgic and kind of timeless. I’ve personally got a soft spot for the catchiness of ‘Easy Money’, which was far better live just because of how the snarling guitar lines reverberated throughout the Brighton Centre.
When it came to Marr’s performances of contributions to The Smiths, however, his swagger was swapped out for a more earnest performance. Hands flew into the air to cheer on Marr’s jangly guitar work during ‘This Charming Man’, but he seemed almost resentful to be playing it.
His passion’s evidently in his solo work, newer and fresher than repeats of his 1980s classics, but that doesn’t mean audiences didn’t chant along to every word of the immortal ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’.
Johnny Marr setlist:
(Intro tape): ‘No Time To Die’ (Billie Eilish)
‘Panic’ (The Smiths)
‘Night And Day’
‘Spirit Power And Soul’
‘This Charming Man’ (The Smiths)
‘Getting Away With It’ (Electronic)
‘Walk Into The Sea’
‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ (The Smiths)
‘How Soon Is Now?’ (The Smiths)
‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ (The Smiths)
After Marr had firmly ignited the crowd’s rock nostalgia, our headliners took to the stage. Between the first two songs of their set, Blondie flaunted their genre-melding approach that has helped to make their legacy so enduring and universally beloved. There truly was something for everyone tonight.
Their twisted journey through a wide range of genres reminded audiences that this really isn’t a group that are scared to experiment. Opening track ‘X Offender’ saw the band returning to their roots as provocateurs with a punk spirit, as summery synths underscore their darker lyrics.
Their visuals for the show also reflected these defiant origins, with a cavalcade of comic art panels, piercing eyes, and photos of strangers in latex and drag being projected behind the band as they performed sensational rock tracks like ‘Mother’. Former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock fitted right in with this atmosphere, filling in for long-time bassist Chris Stein.
The band’s instrumentalists absolutely shone, not once faltering in their talents during their hour and a half set. Veteran drummer Clem Burke earned himself particularly loud cheers for his showstopping fills, as well as his ability to drift between the many styles of Blondie with elegance.
Having spent marketing material back in the day trying to remind audiences that Blondie is, in fact, a band, Harry made sure to highlight her bandmates and their legacies in the rock world. Guitarist Tommy Kessler’s riffs, leaning more towards the stadium rock side of things with their speed and overdrive, also went down a treat.
For her part, Harry captured the crowd’s attention with a seemingly effortless aura of confidence. There’s good reason Debbie Harry is such an icon; in the near-fifty years since Blondie formed, her vocal talents haven’t diminished one bit. Her sharp, powerful voice that lends itself just as beautifully to the tender high notes of ‘Maria’ as it does to the aggressive rock cries of ‘Call Me’ remains unstoppable. It’s pretty clear that she knows this, too. Throughout the show she could be seen with her hair blowing back dramatically, smirking underneath sunglasses as audiences hang off her every classic lyric.
(Intro tape): ‘For The Damaged Coda’ (Blonde Redhead)
‘Hanging On The Telephone’ (The Nerves cover)
‘Fade Away And Radiate’
‘The Tide Is High’ (The Paragons cover)
‘What I Heard’
‘(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear’
‘Union City Blue’
‘Heart Of Glass’ (inc snippets of ‘I Feel Love’ (Donna Summer) & ‘God Save The Queen’ (Sex Pistols)
‘No Exit’ (inc snippets of ‘Toccata In D Minor’ (JS Bach) & ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ (Edvard Grieg))
‘Fragments’ (an Unkindness cover)
‘Call Me’ (Clem Burke drum solo)
‘One Way Or Another’