State always brings the trusty old notebook to gigs, ready to scribble down the names of new tracks, cover songs and various minutae that crop up but can sometimes be forgotten in the post-gig comedown. For Blondie, though, it’s expected that it will remain firmly in the back pocket, not just because a set full of ‘the hits’ is foreseen, but because we’ve been reacquainting ourselves quite comprehensively with the New Yorkers’ back catalogue in the weeks leading up to tonight’s Olympia performance.
The band that walks out on stage looks considerably different from the one adorning most of those album sleeves. Yes, they’re older now, but there are new faces, too – only Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke remain from the original line-up. That all becomes insignificant, however, when they crack into ‘Union City Blue’ – charged with the energy an earnest band pours into playing a song for the first time, rather than one that was penned more than 30 years ago. Harry, naturally, takes centre stage; her eyes hidden behind couture sunglasses, her face framed by that trademark platinum blonde hair and her voice sounding remarkably clear and precise.
That the feisty singer’s vocals can be discerned at all is a tribute to her, because the sound quality in the Olympia tonight is disappointingly below par – sometimes muffled, sometimes plagued by unintended echoes. But Blondie persevere and, in doing so, somehow rise above that unfortunate obstacle. By the time they play the intro to ‘Atomic’ surprisingly early in the set, the sound problems are pushed to the back of the mind and a party atmosphere spreads amongst the crowd.That crowd, incidentally, is indicative of the group’s lasting appeal, with an age range spanning from giddy teenagers to those who, well, were perhaps that young and giddy when Parallel Lines was released.
Unsurprisingly, the set is full of favourites from the band’s back catalogue – classics like ‘Hanging On The Telephone’, ‘Sunday Girl’ and ‘Rip Her To Shreds’ all find their way into the frame – but there’s still room for more recent material, with ‘D-Day’ and ‘Mother’ from their new Panic Of Girls LP also being aired and they stand up well, even if they’re received a little less enthusiastically. The fun factor is hiked-up at the end of ‘Rapture’ when they work in a version of the Beastie Boys’ ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’.
It’s not the only cover song to make an appearance, with Debbie Harry asking the audience “is she really going out with him?” as they return for their encore with a rendition of The Damned’s ‘New Rose’. Blondie then sign off from Dublin with ‘Heart Of Glass’, which prompts their fans into one last lung-bursting sing-along. ‘Denis’ is notable by its absence, but it matters little in a performance full of favourites. What’s more impressive is that, more than three decades after they first took to the stage, Blondie are a live band who are still very much at their peak. Groups several years – or even a couple of generations – their junior could learn a thing or two from shows like this.