Blondie September 4, 2011 Mystic Lake Casino
I was 16 when Blondie reunited in the late 1990s. I have a memory of reading about their plan to do a few shows and record an album in Spin or maybe Rolling Stone; I was definitely sitting in the waiting area of my hairstylist's salon. Factor in his subscription to Interview, and he had the best free magazines of any business in my small town.
Learning of the reunion, this was immediately clear to me: seeing Blondie play live would be the coolest thing I could ever do with my boring life of Midwestern nothingness.[jump]
It was quite a fantasy. In it, the band appeared in black and white, just like in all the old punk documentaries I'd seen of the five-piece appearing on all the burgeoning underground stages of New York City alongside Patti Smith, the Ramones, Television, the Cramps, the Talking Heads, and so on. They were all still thin as rails and in scrappy t-shirts and jeans, their streaked hair toeing the line between '70s rock and '80s new wave. Next to all these other musicians, Blondie always seemed cooler, more real, more honest, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the cries a short time later that they'd sold out.
On the second date of their US tour promoting their new CD Panic of Girls (set to be released September 13 in the States), the sextet now features original members Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke. As they took the stage at Mystic Sunday night to 1979's "Union City Blue," Debbie in glittery black sunglasses and a powder blue ballet-style dress with froofy tulle skirt under black overdress, self-aware grin and blissed-out expression on her lovely face and an energy that hasn't waned in nearly 40(!) years of performing, I knew immediately my every expectation, held now for over a decade, would be met. If I had known as a teenager their live show would include a Beastie Boys cover, well, I would have been in "Really wish I was in New York circa 1980s rather than Aberdeen, South Dakota circa 1990s, sigh..." heaven.
Harry's breathy, theatrical vocal delivery is still inspiring to the counterculture-obsessed teenager in me, and her over-the-top stage moves and cheerleader-esque interaction with her audience have not slowed a bit since her days onstage at Max's and CBGB. Stein and the new band maintain the integrity of all their old hits, with new guitarist Tommy Kessler's shredding 80s hard rock vibe showing influences that likely predate him. A highlight was drummer Clem Burke, who can adeptly switch from a bratty punk beat to a crisp reggae beat to a firm disco beat to a powerful hip hop beat and back to a strong punk beat in the blink of an eye.
My only complaint? I love seeing shows at Mystic. It's a wonderful venue; their theater is great, it sounds awesome and the layout provides great sightlines for pretty much every seat in the house. They bring in a great lineup of acts, and this summer their amphitheater has proven a winner, too. But I really wanted to see this show at First Ave - I wanted to be moving around with other people who were also moving around and, let's be honest, I wanted to be drinking and dancing, mostly drinking, facilitating the dancing. But I suppose all this goes without saying, and Blondie commanded the Mystic stage and did a proper job keeping the energy topped out even with an often sedate and seated audience.
The band paid as much attention to their newer stuff as their old, and that was (always surprisingly) a very good thing - all their new songs, namely "China Shoes," "D-Day," "Wipe Off My Sweat," and "Horizontal Twist," are fresh, and just really, really good and still-relevant tunes, proof a band this storied can still make some of their best material later in their career.
I had a grin on my face from start to finish, and anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not much of a smiler. What more is there to say? If I kept a diary, I'd probably go home and tell it about this show.
Dear Diary, I saw Blondie tonight - my mom let me stay out 'til ten, can you believe it! And it was the coolest ever! I want to be Debbie Harry, and oh my god I have THEE BIGGEST CRUSH on Clem Burke. Don't tell him, ok? All for now! P.S. I hope this pimple goes away by Friday. I LOVE BLONDIE! Love, Nikki
Critic's bias: Come on - who doesn't love Debbie Harry? Who doesn't wanna BE Debbie Harry? I've thought she was the coolest chick since I first began thinking chicks other than my mom were cool. The crowd: Largely people who loved Blondie on the first go-round (no matter how young they were at the time), and who might echo my sentiment about being able to have room to dance; by the time Harry was done rapping her way through "Rapture," my whole aisle was shaking from people trying to dance - and in some cases, doing some very intense lap-drumming - while remaining fully seated. Overheard in the crowd: "Fab Five Freddy told me everybody's fly, DJ's spinning I said my, my. Flash is fast, Flash is cool, Francois sais pas, Flashe no deux." - Lady down the row from me had the rap down, and Debbie Harry was lovin' it. Random notebook dump: The new stuff sounds great. If this is what their new album is like...I see a new Blondie playlist being created for gay nightclubs the world over - and all the rest, too, if the straights can ever manage to catch on. Setlist: Union City Blue/Dreaming/Atomic/D-Day/Hanging on the Telephone/Call Me/Love Doesn't Frighten Me at All/Maria/What I Heard/China Shoes/Wipe Off My Sweat/Horizontal Twist/Mother/Rapture/You Gotta Fight/One Way Or Another Encore: Heart of Glass For more photos: See our full slideshow by Steve Cohen.
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