Friday, June 11, 2010

Concert: Blondie

Cambridge Corn Exchange, 11th June 2010.

I was at university from 1978 to '81, so Blondie are naturally an important part of my past. However, I never did get to see them back then, so the discovery that they were going to be playing Cambridge (I think for the first time ever, although I may have missed something in the last few years) was an opportunity to fill that gap in my life.

The evening began in appropriate '70s style; first, everyone had to queue up outside until the doors opened at the concert's advertised start time, and then the support band (Little Fish) turned out to be a three-piece (guitar/vocals, drummer, keyboards) with a female singer-guitarist playing jagged, slightly punky little songs; they weren't bad, but I found I was old-fashioned enough to wonder if they'd be better with a bass player to round out the sound.

Anyway, one interval later, Blondie hit the stage, starting with the inevitable assorted thin, slightly anonymous male musicians and then - Debbie Harry, wearing a platinum wig, shades, a black dress with a conical layered knee-length skirt, and Doc Martens. In other words, she looked a bit like some kind of crazy cat lady, if your neighbourhood crazy cat lady was a living goddess of power pop - complete with the voice we all remember, that coolly amused New York drawl. Actually, the voice may not be quite the subtle power tool it once was; during "Atomic", the crucial repetition of the title was first spoken, then handed over to the audience, then replaced with an apocalyptic guitar solo. Still, there was no doubt who this was.

The set actually turned out to contain a fair amount of new material - the band have a new album coming soon (and the new material sounded very Blondie) - which is great; this isn't just a self-tribute act, although many of the classics were in there too, to varying effect; this was a rock band with decent keyboards, not a synthesizer band, so "Maria" and "Call Me" were fine, while "Heart of Glass" was, well, rockier than the studio version. I never did catch who the line-ups lead guitarist was (Chris Stein, the long-time mainstay of the band, seemed to be leaving a lot of the lead work to this other guy), but he was a little bit prone to axeman exhibitionism. But that wasn't the point, was it? The audience of forty- and fifty-somethings (and some of their kids) were there to see the cool, streetwise blonde who was there before any of your Madonnas or Gagas. And we got what we came for.

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