Blondie, Sheffield 02 Academy 29th June 2014
Chris Stein, Blondie’s veteran guitarist and principal songwriter told the Sheffield Telegraph a few days prior to this gig that ‘old age is a bitch and you can quote me on that,’ but this did not translate in the evening’s performance. In fact it was an evening of vibrancy that many bands just starting out today could learn from. The Blondie army marched into Yorkshire to play the Sheffield 02 Academy
as part of their ‘Blondie 4 ( 0 ) ever tour’, straight from their set at Glastonbury, which broke the record for largest audience for a Friday afternoon slot at the alternative stage. If that was not enough, it was announced in the same week that after 40 years in the music business, Blondie are the most successful female fronted band of all time. Blondie still comprise of core members Debbie
Harry (vocals), Chris Stein (guitar) and Clem Burke (drums) but are joined by Matt Katz Bohen (keyboards), Tommy Kessler (guitar) and Leigh Foxx (bass). The night kicked off with the classic, ‘One Way or Another’ performed with grit and attitude (and yes they did get us get us get us). As soon as the lights came up and that famous riff bellowed, the audience could see Tommy jumping up and down in his yellow converse shoes like an excited child and Debbie pretending to drive a car whilst later screaming that she knew where we live, our phone numbers and where we park our car (not sure if we should be laughing or applying for some type of restraining order but it was a great opener). Straight from the vintage classic, Debbie and her boys went straight into a song off the new album, ‘The Ghosts of Downloads,’ (which recently saw the band back in the top 15 of the UK album chart) called ‘Rave,’ a New Wave classic with a club type feel. Debbie told us she ‘was on the road to ruin one more time’ but was going to ‘burn up the room rate’ and was in ‘the grip of her intentions.’ The song oozes New York class and its studio version features DJ Miss Guy, who sadly was not present on this UK tour, which is a shame as rumours on Facebook were that if he was to perform with the band at Glastonbury he planned to do it naked. I was pleasantly surprised to hear ‘Good Boys’ (a UK single from 2003) in the set and consequently I was ‘shaking my feathers all over the place’ during the bridge which is reminiscent of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’. Speaking of dancing, I feel the need to on the record apologise for my random dancing with total strangers and introducing Sheffield to the Jelly Arms of this author, but that should give the reader a good idea of the atmosphere. Plenty of people dancing, plenty of people enjoying themselves and plenty of people singing along at the top of their voices. About half way through the set came number 1 anthem, ‘Maria’ and I think it is fair to comment that everyone in the audience conquered loudly that ‘you gotta see her’ ( from watching the footage on my phone, I again need to apologise, this time for my own vocal attempt that thankfully was drowned out by Ms Harry’s thick textured voice that has not only improved with time, it drove the song). In true Blondie style there is always an obscure cover , and tonight was no exception. The re working the Beastie Boy’s classic, ‘Fight for your right to party’ smoothly followed a harrowing, yet beautiful version of ‘Rapture’. The cover was performed with irony and plenty of grinning from the band members and there was something so endearing about Debbie shouting she was doing ‘no homework’ that it made me want to quit my job and just party (sadly alcohol may have also played some part in this rather short lived decision). The other cover that made its way onto the set as part of a four song encore was ‘Hollywood Babylon’ originally by The Misfits. This version would have sounded at home on one of Blondie’s first two albums as it was delivered with raw punk passion right from the ‘hey you’ and Debbie asking the audience to ‘give her some’ (oh my). The classic tracks performed on the night included ‘Call Me’, with the signature Matt Katz Bohen key tar solo, that saw him march to the front of the stage and look at the audience over his sunglasses that he kept on throughout the set despite being in a dark room (always rock and roll); ‘Atomic’ which showcased Tommy’s behind the head, Hendrix style guitar solo and his fancy footwork was back (the guy never stands still). It is appropriate that the lyrics of the song are ‘ahhhhh your hair is beautiful’ as Tommy really does have lovely hair that never moves. Of course ‘Heart of Glass’ was performed and received the biggest response of the night (and despite how many times I have seen Blondie live, the audience never wave their arms in the same direction in the la de da bits). ‘Dreaming’ highlighted the world class talent of Clem Burke, whose drumming only seems to get better and better. Hid behind his Perspex cage, that does nothing to stop him being anything but loud, he played beat perfect whilst also continuing to be the showman he always is, twirling his sticks and throwing them up in the air in between the off beats. During the encore version of ‘In The Sun’ I found myself punching the air with admiration as he rolled his fills around the whole kit numerous times as Debbie screamed ‘surfs up’. Still sounding as vibrant as when it was recorded nearly 40 years ago, it was topped off by Debbie making surfing motions on the stage (minus the surfboard) and Chris Stein’s bum wiggle during the breakdown. Sadly after approximately 90 minutes on stage, the 6 Blondie members were all lined up on the stage giving their bows and wishing us all a good night, whilst folk cheered for more. But we had had our encore and within minutes the lights were back up and the venue staff where cleaning the floor full of plastic cups (and they were plenty – the folk in Sheffield really do like their beer). Many waited patiently for a sign of Debbie, but to no avail, although there was a rumour that the blonde bombshell had sneaked out the venue locked in a storage case. After the show was cleared away the Blondie boys stayed behind to speak to the fans fortunate enough to have after show passes. I learned all about Matt Katz Bohen’s admiration for British culture as he clutched a soft toy model of a yellow submarine (Clem clutched a glass of red wine) and how Tommy looks great in red shorts (this author may have developed a slight crush on the baby Blondie boy). Alas the night was over and Blondie were off to London to play Shepherd’s Bush Empire the next day followed by a private party at the Village Undergroundvenue to launch Vivienne Westwood’s new cabin crew uniforms. It was here that Debbie and Chris revealed their secret of longevity in the music business – taking your vitamins.