Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blondie, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, June 27, 2008

It's been 30 years since the release of Blondie's breakthrough album, Parallel Lines. The band is on tour now, and, to my pleasant surprise, playing the album in its entirety. However, the overall set encapsulated all that is good and bad about Blondie.

First off, the support act was an L.A. band called Pedestrian. It was either that or The Adequates. This was "modern" rock music lacking passion and character. Oh well.

Blondie took the stage at 9 p.m. They are still a six-piece, with the core of Debbie Harry, hubby Chris Stein and the amazing drummer, Clem Burke, joined by three cats, including a second guitarist who was apparently recruited from a Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band.

This unit did a really nice job on the Lines material. Of course, it helps when you can start a set with the one-two punch of "Hangin' on the Telephone" (the great Nerves cover) and "One Way Or Another". Harry looked great from a few hundred feet back, as she's relatively svelte for a 63 year old (!).

Harry is a fascinating singer. Her voice is nice, but isn't the greatest instrument. What makes her special is the character and attitude she puts into songs. She acts out songs in a way few do (The Monkees' Mickey Dolenz comes to mind) and still sounds quite good.

Once past those two stone cold classics, the band settled into the sleek pop sounds that dominate the album, alternating from classic rock 'n' roll forms to chillier modern territory. As much of a trip as it was to actually hear "Fade Away and Radiate" live, the best part of the set was the run from the jagged "I Know But I Don't Know", the poppy "11:59", through "Will Anything Happen?".

Soon thereafter the band went into an extended workout on "Heart of Glass", with Harry encouraging audience participation and still sounding sexy and angelic every time she cooed, "Oooooh boy." This was followed by my other fave tune off of the album, the ultra-peppy run through of Buddy Holly's "I'm Gonna Love You Too". Great stuff.

But after the completion of the final Lines tune, "Just Go Away", things took a turn for the worse. Somewhere there is a parallel universe where "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture" stiffed and a cowed Chris Stein went back to writing cool pop-rock tunes, instead of becoming the homeless man's David Byrne. Stein's forced eclecticisism (if that's a word) ruined both Auto-American and The Hunter, and the reunited Blondie has continued to labor under the impression that this diversity plays to its strengthes. But it doesn't.

The band played four recent songs, a couple of which were positively dreadful. This ended with "Maria", the pleasant hit from the band's No Exit album. However, although the chorus reminds me of better days, the song is otherwise undernourished -- it's all chorus and not much else.

After this, the band launched into an extended version of "Rapture" that had more endings than Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple, and included a brief Bo Diddley tribute (which was nice) and a shameful blues vamp. Odd. This was followed by a version of "Call Me" that was done in a lower key, for reasons I can't fathom (Deb's voice the rest of the night made it sound like she could handle it). Harry gave a disinterested reading, not even bothering with the lyrics for the brilliant middle-eight that makes the song special. Feh.

The band did a two song encore, ending with a so-so version of "The Tide Is High". And "Dreaming", Blondie's best song, was not heard at all. So this was great for 50 minutes and frustrating the rest of the evening.


Matt Berlyant said...

Nice review Mike. I also agree that eclectisism isn't Blondie's strong point. I like their 1st s/t album and Parallel Lines the best, though I also like Eat to the Beat quite a bit as well. Like you, I also really dislike Automamerican and The Hunter. I like "Maria" more than you do, though. One of the lines ("she's walking on imported air") was taken from an Autoamerican-era B-side called "Susie and Jeffrey" or "Walk Like Me" (I think it's the latter, but I'm not 100% sure). As for their comeback albums, I liked No Exit (though it's wildly inconsistent; the title track is dreadful, for instance) and really disliked their last one, The Curse of Blondie. Every time I've seen them live, they've been reasonably good, though.

Also, I don't think Debbie and Chris were ever married.

Val Vallecillo said...

I would've enjoyed seeing that show. The poorly performed songs give an excellent opportunity for bathroom breaks. Now you have me wanting to get the 30th Anniversary Edition of Parallel Lines CD/DVD. I can't get online without spending money (they try to make me go to rehab, I said...thanks for the great post!!).