At first, the choice of venue did not sound illustrious enough for musical royalty such as Blondie; lurking between the backstreets of Lime Street; identified as potential legalised 'Vice Zone', creeping with neglect, crumbling in dereliction, long faded grandeur beyond shabby chic. The O2 Academy is an old fashioned venue of the condensing sweat and sticky floor variety. No hairstyle survives its acid rain; no shoes remain entirely unscathed by gummy remains. But its whiff of 'New York' Twilo grit, its sniff of San Francisco’s underground dance clubs minus huddled heroin addicts, feels right, given Blondie's rebellious beginnings, and with capacity little more than thousand, had a gratefully received intimate feel, or as much as can be reasonably hoped for when hosting such stars.
The place was rammed to capacity with an ecstatically enthusiastic crowd which spanned many generations; from those who had obviously been there at birth, to those who hitched a ride along the way, to some who looked barely of age; and genres; man, woman, girl, boy, bit of both and indefinable: all amiably united by the same affliction, addicted to the allure of Blondie. Some clung together like cells, soaking up the atmosphere by osmosis, swelling like sponges to become one organism in symbiotic movement with mother host, swaying, singing, screaming in ecstatic unison. Whilst others stood alone, awe struck, scarily immobilised, incommunicative, mute in presence of eternally youthful sprite, who had irretrievably stolen their senses. For myself, I felt giddy with excitement: whatever the manifestation, we all worshipped at the feet of this pagan goddess and her band.
Spotting Ian Broudie later at the after show party, it seems The Lightening Seeds are providing support for many gigs on the tour, so it would have seemed a natural choice for Liverpool but, for reasons unknown, ‘Lexy and The Kill’ were imported from London, to fill that role.
I cannot even begin to imagine what it feels like to support Blondie, but Lexy and her band took to the stage with courageous aplomb, even though they knew they were, inevitably, filling time. It is credit to their music they held an excitable audience, who respectfully listened; with shades of Paloma Faith, Indie Blondie without the sneer, infused with folk, impassioned, sincere, smoothly expressive, intelligently articulate, musically and lyrically; lilting, throbbing, they were perfect foil for what was to follow and, in other circumstances, would have stolen the show. I might be imagining it, but understandably there was a touch of tremulous fear in the otherwise true and sure, swooping, hollering, honeyed vocal; incredible bravery for ones so young. Ending with 'Oh' , a midnight blue ballad, melancholic, ardently fervent, Lexy exit to reverential applause, as the covers are removed to reveal Blondie's stage set; art deco minimalist, artlessly artful as the band themselves; elevated keyboards just off centre stage, framed by curving embrace of microphone stands, lipstick red drum kit enclosed in forward focusing Perspex box, which disconcertingly reflects ghostly shadow of Debbie throughout the night, a mirror of her mortal being, trapped in another dimension, other worldly presence.
Fomenting anticipation, half an hour creeps at a snail's pace, before the crowd erupt in cat calling cacophony of adoration and stamping feet, as Blondie materialise on stage. Imminent collapse of the balcony on which I stand, overlooking a surging crowd, seems inevitable, as its beer soaked timbers bow and bounce. Despite a premonition of impending disaster, nothing could have persuaded any of us to leave. From that point on, the night is pretty much a sea of smiling faces, delirious chants and deafening roars, from a rapturous crowd. Having squeezed into a pink leather miniskirt, preserved in hope for posterity, each bulge and crease counting my fleeting years, inevitable doubt about propriety had slapped me full in the face, but my first glance of Deborah Harry, in the flesh, rejuvenated hope. Casting age aside, embracing life, she looked stunning, a woodland nymph in luminous rosehip orange/ red miniskirt and hooded top, curled with creepers: as befits a goddess status, her head is wreathed; rambling rose by any name, forswearing laurel crown, it is poison ivy which snakes round her signature platinum blonde, up swept tangle of birds nest tresses. Trim, but not stick thin, curvaceous in all the right places, exuding inner glow, this lady, at a time in her life when many resign themselves reluctantly to a quiet life, is irrepressibly inspirational, as is her choice of footwear; at odds with her upper half, rather orthopaedic, laced up, chunky heeled platforms. I am relieved to see that even goddesses require sensible footwear to dance.
As the night progresses I am torn, wanting to hear old classics, but also hungry for new material. Just as the band combines founding members; Debbie Harry, guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke, with the later addition of Leigh Foxx on bass, Tommy Kessler on guitar and Matt Katz Bohen on keyboards, all in perfect harmony. New songs blend seamlessly with old, illustrating how Blondie's music transcends time, trends and vagaries of taste. Old Handers, relaxed on stage, casually attired, those younger with still malleable hair, slightly more styled, Kessler sporting mini Mohican shock, while Matt Katz Bohen’s wrap round helmet of hard rock hair, as controller of electronics, appropriately emulating star ship captain. Players in place, to a backdrop of slightly wavering parallel lines, Blondie begins a night of vivacity which shows little diminution in stamina and energy, and none in mental acuity; rocket aimed straight to heart of Planet Blondie,
I hardly need to describe the songs taken from past albums; at times the audience’s enthusiasm tipping the boat dangerously towards Karaoke; they were difficult to distinguish from recorded versions, apart from addition of extended solos, taken in turn; demonstrating virtuosic talent of musicians concerned, both live and capturing essence of Blondie on plastic. Speaking to Tommy Kessler afterwards, he disarmingly admitted that even a genius makes mistakes; if any were made tonight I definitely didn't notice. As he so eloquently remarked “If they want the music perfect then buy they should buy the record”.
Leaping into swirling maelstrom of sound, a rumble of rolling drums, a cat call guitar and stamping of feet, ‘One Way Or Another’ from ‘Parallel Lines’; a song which had been in my head all week. I had forgotten the tease in Debbie Harry’s voice which disarms its menace with confident, street wise, twinkle in the eye. Ms Harry’s voice has lost little of its astringency and attitude, through those lower notes, which always sounded slightly strained, have slipped from smokily sultry, to a little woolly. None the less, over testing set of twenty songs, her voice stayed true and strong; retaining clear eyed exhilarating arrogance of youth, completely belying her years. The audience whipped into a frothing formant were baying to hear more, eagerly guzzling classics. From Blondie’s chocolate box, there was: ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ and ‘Heart of Glass’ (‘Parallel Lines’), ‘Union City Blue’, ‘Atomic’ and ‘Dreaming’ (‘ Eat To The Beat’), ‘The Tide Is High’(‘Autoamerican’), ‘What I Heard’ and ‘Wipe Off My Sweat’ (‘Panic Of Girls’), ‘Maria’(‘No Exit’), ‘Call Me’ (Theme to ‘American Gigolo’).
The fact that this selection of eleven barely scratched the surface of songs, that an enthused audience were screaming for, emphasised Blondie’s extraordinary song writing skills, evolving musical language of their own, picking at bones of melody, timelessly appealing. Only a band as cool and classy as Blondie could have pulled this off without sounding passé and twee. Unexpectedly, there were three covers; ‘Lights’ (Ellie Goulding), a sensitive rendition which proved a welcome quirky, gossamer glimmer of an intervention, providing a surprisingly spine tingling shimmer into ‘Atomic’ ;‘Please Please Me’ (The Beatles), a reverential nod to Liverpool and ‘Relax’ (Frankie Goes To Hollywood), which I thought was an inspirational choice, again in reverence to Liverpool but later talking to members of the band after, it turns out this is a cover Blondie regularly perform - for the younger members of the band an unrealised, unintentional connection; fate, karma and good taste conspiring at the right time in the right place; though no-one can inject such a song with iconic irony of the original, Blondie did it justice.
The highlights for me were the mind worm bass and scat/rap on ‘The Tide Is High’; making it sound fresh; ‘analogue’ oscillator sweep and spacey keyboard wizardry which polished familiarity of ‘Heart Of Glass’, together with an inspired projection of Damien Hirst’s Crystal Skull. The incendiary guitar solo on ‘Atomic’, largely sung by inflamed audience; virtuosic Latin American acoustic guitar interlude on ‘Wipe Off My Sweat’, tossed off like Matador’s cloak; and of course, some ironic ‘rock god’ posing with my instrument of the month, the Keytar. However, revelation of the night was six new songs, which I presume form the back bone of the album, 'Ghosts Of Download', to be released later this year. Expecting to be underwhelmed or, at most, pleasantly surprised, I was actually overwhelmed by their musical perspicacity; acutely aware of current trends, while retaining Blondie identity, these dance influenced tracks already sound like classics of today: ‘Rave’ in Debbie Harry’s sweet siren range, spins round her signature spike of one note tease, hangs on Blondie’s classic clean cut melodic lines and subtle key shifts, washed by spacey synth, bass throb drawing on ‘Atomic’. ‘A Rose By Any Name’, ‘Drag You Around’ and ‘Take Me In The Night’ injected with insinuating mind snake of snatched melody, coated in Blondie’s hard candy, sprinkled with deceptively dry wit, prickling with curl of cautious lip, heady with swaying, slinky beat, as sultry as summer night, as innocently seductive as sweet Kylie, deserve to be dance floor hits and....dare I say it....in the right hands inspirational material for many a remix. ‘Winter’ hinting at early days Roxy, magnetically mesmerising in the way of Patti Smith; refreshing contrast to other songs, exploring darker, seedier edge; I can just imagine Debbie in duet with Ferry; sassy sultry meets suave sleazy ; now that would be something!
However, my favourite song of the night has to be ‘Sugar’: picking up the Latin beat of one of my favourite post hiatus songs, ‘Wipe Off My Sweat’; with its gyrating, snake charm, salsa beat and tango twist, tonight sensually enhanced by nylon string acoustic guitar gymnastics, the song which kept me listening when Blondie hit the doldrums: ‘Sugar’ swings to an even more enticing beat, Latino crossed with Reggae, hard and rhythmic Reggaeton which burns with intense heat of passionate dance. For me this is the star which steals the show, pointing the way to where new born Blondie might go. Fading out with ‘Dreaming’, at the end of a five song encore, suddenly unplugged from electric energy generated by Blondie, I feel drained, as if I have been to a rave, but a nebulous opportunity to meet the band keeps Mel and I hanging on. We are not disappointed, and apart from Chris Stein, one by one they appear for an after show drink, looking surprisingly spritely given their huge expenditure of energy; it is easy to see why musicians are so svelte and wiry; anti ageing adrenalin, elixir of youth. What sticks in my mind is the extreme enthusiasm and dedication which beamed from each member of Blondie, eager to discuss different musical passions from classical to hard rock; these are consummate musicians, with undeniable need to express themselves through music; varied influences, filtered through Blondie’s prism, keeping their music fresh and informed. Leigh Foxx tells us of an experience which illustrates how music is the lifeblood of these virtuosos, how the need to perform overcomes all; stricken by an unidentified ailment, rendering him unconscious in hospital for several days, left with a legacy of problems, having to relearn many basics, through effort of will he returned to full form, to live the life he obviously loves.
Talking about their schedule, a one and a half hour drive before they can bed for the night, on their way to The Isle Of Man for the festival, it is evident how much hard work goes into every aspect of such an enormous endeavour. Then the icing on the cake, Debbie Harry appears, devoid of wig, hair actually as curly as mine when left to its own devices, face wiped clean, comfortably at ease in red tracksuit, cradling a more than well earned rose. I fought an almost irresistible urge to prostrate myself at those tiniest of feet, and kiss her well loved trainers. To my eternal shame, I burbled a stream of incoherent, sycophantic babble and I shall never forget the look on Debbie’s face; a mixture of fear and incomprehension to be confronted by someone obviously insane. I will not forget the light that shone from those cool blue eyes, the curve of that clearly etched lip, reflecting a steely inner composure, the likes of which I had encountered when interviewing a contemporary of hers, P.P.Arnold. It is clear both these modestly private women share strength of intellect, wisdom, will and wit, for which they are not given full credit. These moments of musical ecstasy do not happen by accident or magic.
Emerging from the mists of adoration I learn that ‘Sugar’, is also one of her favourite new songs, a nugget of insight which raises my reverence for the lady even higher; sharing penchant for dance and music in its many forms, intensifies my eagerness to hear the new album. As my heroine retreats, I haven’t had the courage to ask her to sign my set list. Reflecting on the night, I find myself indubitably impressed with Blondie; they could have rested on laurels of their string of hits; but like ivy which wreathed Debbie’s head, they drink from waters deep, to re emerge with shoots afresh. They say you should never meet your heroes, but tonight has proved Blondie is indestructible, even when descended from clouds, to mingle with more mortal souls.