Back in my New Jersey college days, I asked a friend what his friend Gary (Lachman) was up to. “He’s playing bass with some chick named Blondie,” he answered. I replied, “I didn’t know Gary played bass.” My friend simply replied, “He doesn’t!” Well, Gary eventually learned how and became Gary Valentine. Despite writing Blondie’s first single and one of their many top ten hits, he lasted only one record with the band.
This brief exchange summed up how in the early CBGB’s days of punk, passion often preceded musicianship. Several bands from that New York City scene developed the skills, nevertheless, and went on to great success. Along with the likes of The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and Talking Heads, Blondie become a world-class recording act. The band made their Ryman debut tonight almost forty years later with its three most talented and creative original members still intact.
Guitarist and songwriter Chris Stein is still a great player and the main catalyst behind the band. Clem Burke remains one of rock’s most powerful and flamboyant drummers and plays faithfully in the style of his hero, the late Keith Moon of The Who. But, Debbie Harry, the voice and face of Blondie, is the one that everyone comes to see. At age 68, she carries her years quite well and makes you think that she will forever be drop-dead gorgeous.
Good looks aside, Debbie Harry is still as entertaining a lead singer as they come, not having lost any of her genre-wide vocal skills. Through their hits, Blondie was quite influential in exposing many in their pop/rock fan base to perhaps their first exposures to disco (“Heart of Glass”), reggae (“The Tide is High”), and rap (“Rapture”). Along with mega-hit “Call Me,” these numbers proved to be the evening’s showstoppers.
These days, the three originals are backed by three new players who I jokingly referred to as the 70’s guy (guitar), the 80’s guy (bass), and the 90’s guy (keyboards), tying them to their respective spiky-punk, hair-metal, and Synth-pop mullet haircuts. They may have looked like a musical hodgepodge, but together they played quite well recreating the band’s classic sound and assisting them with newer material. Although tonight’s set list included most of what everyone wanted to hear, new songs comprised one-third of the show.
The 90-minute set had a few surprises such as the guest guitar encore accompaniment by a current Nashville transplant from the old CBGB’s scene, The Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome. To add some local color early on, Debbie checked in a few lines of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (a song Blondie recorded in 1980 for the film Roadie). To take things back home, she later spun off a bit of The Beastie Boys “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn.”
Getting to see Blondie for the first time in over thirty years was a pleasant surprise that brought back many great memories. It also gave me a nudge to spend some time checking out their new music, Ghosts of Download, when it comes out in January 2014.
Blondie’s set was a part of their No Principals Tour with the classic LA-punk outfit X (in their original line up), who opened up with a set of loud, in-your-face punk rock. While I have always respected X, I much preferred Blondie’s more discernable melodic efforts. Even so, the Ryman crowd of current-day grandparents who used to be punk rockers, found themselves back in the 70’s for X’s loud and wild 45-minute frenzy.
- One Way or Another
- Hanging on the Telephone
- Union City Blue
- A Rose by Any Name
- The Tide is High
- Drag You Around
- What I Heard
- Wipe Off My Sweat
- Sugar on the Side
- Heart of Glass
- Mile High
- Hollywood Babylon (Misfits cover)
- Call Me
Deborah Harry—Lead Vocals
Tommy Kessler—Electric and Acoustic Guitars and Backing Vocals
Matt Katz-Bohen—Keyboards and Backing Vocals
Cheetah Chrome (guitar on “Hollywood Babylon”)