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Blondie at Glastonbury review – Debbie Harry is an atomic charisma bomb

theguardian.com – 25th June 2023

By Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Pyramid stage
She can’t sing like she used to – but makes up for it with a riveting performance full of untamed theatrics and awesomely aloof cool

Debbie Harry performing with Blondie on the Pyramid stage. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

The chief grumble about Pyramid stage sets is about artists who aren’t perceived to have enough hits to play it (Stormzy and Billie Eilish have been the chief recent targets of this opprobrium, each with an undercurrent of prejudice). Of all the bands to play this weekend, the one least burdened by this problem has to be Blondie.

It’s easy to forget just how broad and deep their discography goes, until you’re socked again and again with hit after hit; even with 75 minutes to play with there’s no room for Union City Blue, Picture This, Sunday Girl and so many more. And aside from a couple of tepid latter day choices – the dull Doom or Destiny makes the sun-parched field suddenly feel very boggy – they show off that slate of hits with great panache.

The wellspring for that charisma is very much Debbie Harry, who emerges wearing a CBGB T-shirt and futuristic visor, as if stalking a neon-lit cyberpunk reboot of the grimy New York the band emerged from in the late 1970s.

Let us be very real for a second and admit that she really cannot sing as well as she once could, particularly in the first half of the set. She doesn’t attempt the top notes of Call Me, which really are the hinge of the song, and there’s a slightly airy, distracted feel at times to her vocals. The rap to Rapture, once semi-authentically badass, is now delivered as if she’s reading out a grocery list pinned to a fridge on the other side of the kitchen.

But once she warms up, her voice does move into those higher rooms – Denis is given its requisite girlishness as a result – and there is so much untamed cool and unpredictable brio throughout. The “uh-toh-mic” utterance of Atomic was once the last word in po-faced NYC cool – Harry yells it here like a particularly lairy nuclear scientist who’s been given a promotion. Later, out of nowhere comes a prowling cat impression, like a moment of genuine feline possession. For Hanging on the Telephone, she rants like a woman castigating a ratfink lover down the line of a public callbox.

Debbie Harry and Glen Matlock. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

It’s pure theatre, and after she follows it up with Call Me – a back-to-back of songs that interrogate all the anxiety and erotic potential of the telephone – she has a very droll and disparaging sign off: “None of it is relevant today – we all have our phones in our pockets,” she says with operatic disdain. She is so riveting to watch, not least because she has one of pop’s great faces, with a smile that spears the heart with its mix of joy and faint malevolence.

With Chris Stein retired from touring but Clem Burke still on drums, the rest of the band is populated by younger musicians – the lead guitarist gives Slash the previous night a run for his money with some showboating solos, and an ostentatious keytar is played with heroically casual insouciance on Call Me. With their buzzcut sides, floppy fringes and sharp suits, they resemble a 1980s street-punk gang who have started a sideline in doing the accountancy for other 1980s street punk gangs. The exception is bassist Glen Matlock (the third ex-Sex Pistol to play this weekend after Generation Sex yesterday), whose tan and silvery mane make him look like the mafioso who’s funding the operation. There’s a nice sibling-like feel to a moment where Harry moseys over and leans against him, Matlock taking the mic for a brief holler.

A robust performance of the superb Dev Hynes co-write Long Time shows that their later tunes can match their classics, but it’s Heart of Glass that has this gigantic Pyramid crowd waving in unison – a truly awesome sight. By now Harry is dressed in a cowl made from shards of mirror, like a comic-book soothsayer stalking the mean streets of the Lower East Side. As she mellifluously sang earlier on, at age 77 she’s clearly not the kind of girl to give up just like that.


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