If someone had told us we’d be spending part of our Monday night listening to a 69-year old woman rap in some backwater Ohio town, we’d have laughed them away.
But said outlook changes when you’re talking Deborah Harry doing “Rapture” in the middle of a hits-laden Blondie set at W.D. Packard Hall.
Harry returned to the Buckeye State with her X-offending band yesterday for a ninety-minute soiree that brought some 2,000 fans back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when the New Wave pioneers peppered the Billboard charts with a string of style-shifting singles.
Blondie performed all those hits last night in Warren, but Harry and co. were careful to intercut the classics with new material from 2014’s, Ghosts of Download.
Said album (the band’s tenth) comes bundled with Greatest Hits Deluxe Redux, a best-of collection that finds Harry and the boys redoing school Blondie favorites for new audiences. The two discs are available together in stores (or online as digital files) as Blondie 4(0) Ever—whose title alludes to the group’s four-decade (and counting) lifespan.
Long gone are Gary Valentine, Jimmy Destri, Frank Infante, and Nigel Harrison—all key Blondie alumni who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band in 2006. But Harry was joined onstage by original members Chris Stein (guitar) and Clem Burke (drums), whose presence (and performances) on Parallel Lines cuts “One Way or Another” and “Hanging on The Telephone” assured fans that this was the real deal.
Wearing a black and pink ensemble with matching clogs (and kitschy yellow sunglasses), Harry sauntered and shimmied on Ghost entries “Rave” and “Mile High,” both pulsating electronic numbers that kept keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen (Good Squad) busy on his riser (in the center of the stage, behind the frosty-headed femme fatale). Sporting shads and headphones, Katz-Bohen added flourish and flash with a Roland Fantom G and Prophet V—and was probably responsible for triggering a few samples and soundbites, too.
The band cooked on the Giorgio Moroder-written “Call Me” (from 1980’s American Gigolo soundtrack) and gossipy “What I Heard” (from 2011’s Panic of Girls). Number-one U.K. hit “Maria” (from 1999’s No Exit) likewise received a warm welcome—and saw lead guitarist Tommy Kessler shifting into high gear at stage left, adjacent to Stein. Wearing jeans, T-shirt, and sleeveless denim vest, Kessler dazzled on a custom Kauer sparkle blue guitar before switching to a couple Les Paul-looking axes (one powder blue, one gold).
The younger virtuoso was an effective visual and sonic foil to the black-suited, white-haired Stein, who wielded an alien-looking XOX carbon fiber guitar and used finger and thumb picks to create textures and tonal color on the throbbing “Euphoria” and “A Rose by Any Name.” But Stein did get a chance to solo on a couple of the vintage numbers.
“Is everyone here from Warren?” asked Harry.
Judging by the en masse reaction, a majority of the Packard spectators were from parts far-and-away—but sounded glad to have made the trip. The singer reported that Blondie are currently in the middle of a joint tour with Morrissey, and that they hope to start work on new tunes by summer’s end.
The ex-Smiths front man played the Akron Civic last night. Why Blondie and “Moz” couldn’t find a midsize venue in Cleveland to accommodate their double-bill is beyond us, but we understand the Brit delivered gave a memorable (and meatless) show, too.
Blondie uncapped their 1980 album Autoamerican at the halfway mark, working the crowd into a frenzy with the aforementioned “Rapture”—whose percolating rhythm underscored Harry’s sultry vocal and legendary scat-rap about the car-eating, bar-hopping Man from Mars. An underrated percussionist, Burke ditched his jacket and tie early on to get cozy with his sharp snare and sibilant high-hat. Kessler and Stein dialed up their guitar distortion as the tune evolved into a jam, steering the measures into a competent cover of The Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party).”
Harry said a local symphony accompanied Blondie’s romp through reggae-tinged “The Tide is High” at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The Miami songbird (but lifelong New Yawker) invited Ohio fans to imagine hearing similar-sounding brass and string sections when the band tackled the #1 hit (a cover of John Holt & The Paragons), which wasn’t difficult; Katz-Bohen ably simulated the Tijuana trumpets and violins on his keyboard rig.
At one point, bassist Leigh Foxx (positioned at stage right, in front of Burke’s drums) copped the funky lick from Deee-lite’s “Groove Is in The Heart” on a Spector four-string.
Stein stepped up to solo on the searing “Atomic” (from 1979’s Eat to the Beat), utilizing the effects pedals at his feet to inject sizzle and sustain. Harry said Stein wrote the buoyant new “Sugar on the Side” in collaboration with Brazil’s System Solara—whose feisty rappers appeared on the video backdrop. Other flickering images on the big screen included psychedelic gel, a mariachi horn section, and a ghetto blaster radio rotating on a turntable.
Disco-charged “Heart of Glass” was a choice finale (and saw a mirror-ball on the video display transform into a mirror-skull). Harry quoted Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” by way of introducing encore “War Child” (from 1982’s The Hunter), then kissed her adoring Packard public goodbye with an ethereal “Dreaming.”
It was—in short—a fun, incandescent show, fueled in equal parts by nostalgia for the CBGB’s punk-pop and Calypso-clipping Blondie singles of old—and Stein’s and Harry’s fondness for fresh sounds.
Harry can still wriggle, vamp and chasse like a seasoned catwalk cover girl, her every hand and arm movement charged with sensuality, every hip-pivot a frisky come-on, and every smile (however innocuously-intended) a playful tease. She removed her overcoat and sunglasses four or five songs in, revealing the eyes that made her a bona fide style heroine, but it was Harry’s easy rapport that endeared her to the crowd. Her vocals may lack the range and oomph of old, yet her pipes retain that mesmeric, chanteuse quality Deborah Harry admirers adore.
Debbie’s still got it, and Blondie’s still bangin’.