Seeing a legendary band past their heyday is always a risky endeavour. Like the old adage of never meeting your heroes, a lot rides on the encounter, enough to shatter your long-held illusions and wonder what all the fuss was about. In the Vicar Street bar, 80s hits like Frankie’s -Relax’ filter through the trickling crowd and reassure fans of tonight’s nostalgia factor. It’s safe to judge that the gig was geared towards those who remembered the New Wave pioneers first time around. Undeniably this formed the majority of the throng but, much to Blondie‘s credit, the crowd was a diverse smattering of ages and clothes styles, from those who knew every word to those who only came for -Maria’.
Opening act Little Fish, who previously rubbed touring shoulders with Eagles of Death Metal and Spinnerette, seem a strange choice to open. Although they put on a good show (to a crowd that were a bit -meh’ about it all), apart from the fact their singer happens to be a woman too, both bands have little in common and, despite the best efforts of frontwoman Julia Sophie the atmosphere just wasn’t there. If you love emotive, throwback-to-grunge rock complete with flannel shirts, Doc Marten boots and a confrontational frontwoman, Little Fish are waiting for you. Tonight though the general consensus was -roll on Blondie’.
As Clem Burke, Chris Stein and Co ascend onto the monochrome stage bang on time, any misgivings that this group should hang up their musical shoes evaporates under the weight of the crowd’s enthusiasm. -Blondie is a Band’ said the 70s t-shirt campaign but truthfully this is easy to overlook. Without really doing anything Debbie Harry is a commanding presence onstage. Wearing a diaphanous white wig, sparkly shades (indoors) and what resembled a tutu skirt, the entrance of Debbie Harry could be interpreted with horror but instead of thinking -Dear God she’s mad’, you’re left feeling in awe of her effortless charisma. All this despite the fact Harry is in solid ice maiden form, with her vocals retaining the heady mix of hard as nails yet vulnerable. She even berates drummer Clem Burke for kick-starting a song before she’d finished speaking and manages to look cool whilst doing it.
As expected (and desired), the classics are belted out. From -Call Me’ to the genre-bending -Rapture’ or the reggae-infused -The Tide is High’, the -Greatest Hits’ slant of the gig was more than catered for. The inclusion of Taio Cruz’s -Break Your Heart’ (no, really) surprisingly worked well, blending well into the mix of old and new material. New album Panic of Girls is shelved for release this year and although it’s not offensive to the ears, sandwiched between some of the greatest pop numbers ever like -One Way or Another’ the new songs lack the fizz of their career-defining output. Sadly the upcoming album sounds like standard, late career mid-tempo Blondie fare and begs the question of whether they should retire from making new recordings.
Predictable and overplayed it may be, there really can be no other finale than -Heart of Glass’. Although Blondie gigs in Ireland have lost their novelty value, if anything, gigs like tonight’s one reaffirm Blondie’s true pulling power. Despite their punk aspirations, Blondie were always pop purveyors. And with a singles collection as strong as theirs, it’s punk’s loss. And for the record, the greatest pop star will always be Debbie Harry.
Photos: Kieran Frost