2nd May 2022
“Don’t worry, we’re not finished with you yet,” said Debbie Harry after a mesmerising performance of Rapture. And boy, she wasn’t wrong.
Blondie helped define the sound of New York’s new wave punk scene of the late 1970s, and on Sunday night, they made their long-awaited return to Manchester. Fans, young and old, were treated to hit after hit in what was almost two hours of non-stop electricity at Manchester’s AO Arena.
Special guest Johnny Marr took to the stage first, tasked with warming up what was initially a reserved, bums firmly-on-seats crowd. But he soon got them up on their feet with a dose of Mancunian-fuelled nostalgia. From the unmistakable riff of Charming Man to tremolo pulse of How Soon is Now and not forgetting There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – Marr looked and sounded genuinely happy to give a whistle-stop tour of The Smiths’ back-catalogue. He occasionally peppered it with some of his newer, underrated, solo material.
After a short interval, and several minutes before they were scheduled to take to the stage – punctuality may not feel very rock n’ roll, but it was warmly welcomed – Blondie appeared, looking just as cool and assured as ever. All eyes were on front-woman Debbie Harry, a vision in green and wearing sunglasses, who was joined by a slightly rejigged line-up. Tommy Kessler filled in for co-founder and bassist Chris Stein, and he treated crowds to several hypnotic guitar solos.
He was joined by Matt Katz-Bohen on keys, Andee Blacksugar on guitar and vocals. Former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock slotted in seamlessly and long-time Blondie drummer Clem Burke brought his A-game, sporting a CBGB t-shirt – a nod to the New York City music club, where they and other new wave and punk rock bands made their name.
What ensued next was testament to the strength and longevity of this iconic band’s ability to navigate a wide range of genres and musical styles. Starting off with the lesser-known X-Offender, which blended nicely into Hanging On The Telephone, the crowd began to rise from their seats, but it was the forth track of the night, Picture This, where things really kicked into gear.
Speeding up in parts, The Tide is High, became an unexpected invitation for some nonchalant headbanging, and provided the momentum for the work of art that is Atomic, a musical elixir if there ever was one. The second half, meanwhile, offered up the opportunity for some quiet reflection – and a chance to rest one’s feet – with the a soulful rendition of Union City Blue accompanied by the wistful, slow-motion hit Shayla, while Dreaming, interspersed with spoken word elements from Harry, had the crowd hanging off her every word.
Of course, only one song could lead us into the encore though, and it had to be Heart Of Glass – a disco hit on Blondie’s own terms. Having played this song on repeat at full volume in my living room during the first lockdown, hearing it live was both intoxicating and affirming.
A quick survey around the arena and it was clear that this song is held dear in the hearts of many Blondie fans. The slightly off-beat ‘oohs’ from the crowd felt and sounded distinctly Mancunian, much to the amusement of Harry, whose near constant smirk was reminiscent of the original music video shot back in 1979.
There’s so much more you could mention from this show-stopping performance, be it guitarist Kessler’s guitar riffs, Burke’s powerful drum solos, or Harry’s sharp vocals that lend themselves to both the high notes and angst-filled cries of songs like Call Me. But what it boils down to is that their charm is undeniable. As the front-woman alluded to at the start, the tour, aptly-named Against The Odds – it has had to be rescheduled several times due to Covid – felt like a long-time coming.
So, when it drew to a close with One Way Or Another, and Harry nodded to the crowd, two fingers pointing, as if to say ‘here we go, you know the score’, it felt like no time had elapsed at all. And that is the undeniable power and talent of a band like Blondie.