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16th May 2022

Blondie en-Rapture their Manchester audience with a spectacular set

Blondie bring a whirlwind of greatest hits to Manchester cementing their star status. Sarah Taylor reviews.
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Blondie en-Rapture their Manchester audience with a spectacular set
Photo: Blondie Tour Poster via Press

An abundance of hits, a sprinkle of rarities and the odd surprise: Blondie were on fire!

Blondie’s tour, aptly titled Against the Odds, is a celebration of their greatest hits, and they embrace both the old and new. Initially planned to coincide with the band’s pre-90s reformation boxset of the same name, ongoing issues such as the vinyl shortage and COVID-19 pandemic have given the tour’s title new meaning. The postponed shows mark Blondie’s first UK tour in 5 years.

Scottish-American rockers Garbage were initially slated to support Blondie, but due to scheduling conflicts, they were unable to make the new dates. Stepping up to the spot, native Mancunian Johnny Marr puts on an incredible show combining his superb solo material with a number of The Smiths’ singalong classics. The frolicking ‘This Charming Man’, the slow crawl of ‘How Soon Is Now?’, and the melancholy lament of ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ all feature, and Marr achieves the often-impossible feat of getting the audience on their feet and really engaged before the headline act have even appeared.

 

Blondie appear five minutes earlier than anticipated, and immediately have a hold on their audience. Opening with ‘X-Offender’, the band’s 1976 debut single, written provocatively (for the time) from the perspective of a prostitute, the band plunged into a series of career highlights. Effortlessly cool and oozing glamour, Debbie Harry, the ultimate It-Girl of rock music – now in her 70s – looked resplendent in a green leather get-up, her signature bleach-blonde hair and model bone structure shining. She still hits the high notes and the lower octaves with ease.

Notably absent is founding member and bassist Chris Stein, who unfortunately could not join the band due to health issues. He finds a replacement in the suitably enigmatic Glen Matlock of Sex Pistols fame. Credit must be given to the newer touring members of the band, specifically the awe-inspiring guitarist Tommy Kessler. He provides a series of riffs that would rival any guitar aficionado, leaning into the instrument and lapping up the woops and cheers from the audience. “Did you ever rip your pants doing that?” Debbie Harry jokes, in her deep New York drawl.

Shimmying straight into ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, the opening track of iconic third album Parallel Lines, and soon after into ‘The Tide is High’ which invites arm-swaying aplenty, it becomes clear that Blondie are not here to prove themselves. Their legacy speaks for itself, as do the songs they play tonight and the responses they provoke from their adoring audience.

‘Atomic’ catapults across the arena, its full-throttle instrumentation sounding so precise and perfected. Its shimmering bridge – that’s the “Oh your hair is beautiful” moment – is sung in unison by some 20,000 Northern-accented attendees. Clem Burke is a force to be reckoned with on the drums, his tenacity constantly put to the test with the explosive trills of ‘Fragments’ and an exhilarating rendition of ‘Dreaming’ which many fans fondly refer to as his song, and for good reason!

But its Harry’s insatiable star quality that really give this band its heart and soul. From formidable rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman to the strutting and swaggering hip-hop pro – Harry’s performance is a masterclass in showwomanship. Noting the May bank holiday and the drinks a-flowing, she declares “You can really destroy yourself tonight!”

The visuals on this tour are also incredibly entertaining, and merchandise is suitably striking. Comic-book style depictions of the band flash up on the screen in varying hues of pink and gold. So, it’s somewhat fitting when Debbie Harry reappears for the encore, donning a yellow cape during rap cut ‘No Exit’ like some sort of superhero, which I guess she is in many ways.

‘Long Time’, the lead single from their most recent record Pollinator is an unexpected highlight with its blistering beat and Harry’s commanding tones. It slots perfectly into the set and provides something fresh, showing Blondie still have plenty more to give and need not rely on only their older material. ‘My Monster’, penned by tonight’s support Johnny Marr is a further example of the band’s persistence.

Known for their eclecticism, Blondie’s whirlwind of hits know no musical boundaries. As drummer Clem Burke told me back in February, “Our palette is immense, there’s very many colours to draw from.” ‘Rapture’ was the first number-one single in the United States to feature rap vocals and it feels timeless as ever, as Harry stalks the stage, delivering the spoken-word verses with an air of self-assuredness. It’s truly sublime.

Always progressive in their music and lyricism, Blondie take the opportunity to dedicate ‘Maria’ to “Anybody who feels like they want to be a girl”, immediately making their audience aware that inclusivity is of utmost importance. And this rings true, not just in terms of gender but looking across the arena, through all social dimensions. Blondie’s music is transcendent, and this show is open to everybody. I attended the show with my mum who I hope doesn’t mind me adding has been a Blondie fan since she was 14 and of course introduced me to the band, so it was really special for me to be able to share the experience with her.

The band conclude their main set with the kaleidoscopic ‘Heart of Glass’ and you get the feeling the arena has been transformed into a glitter-ball disco dancefloor. By now there’s no excuse to remain seated, its impossible to resist boogying along to the infectious beat of perhaps the most enduring song of the 1970s. A cacophony of ‘ooo’s ensue before an interspersion of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ invites further shimmying and the band depart ever-so-briefly.

Blondie save the one-two punch of ‘Call Me’ – their most streamed song on Spotify – and ‘One Way or Another’ until last. Harry’s exclamatory vocals on the former resound through the venue, along with Burke’s bombastic percussion. Meanwhile, the snarling persistence of the latter made for a triumphant conclusion to a spectacular set!

You can read my interview with Blondie’s very own Clem Burke for The Mancunion here.

You can buy tickets for Blondie ‘s remaining tour dates here.

Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor

Head Music Editor @ The Mancunion. Freelance Music and Culture Writer @ DIY, The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, etc. Alt-rock connoisseur and Britpop aficionado. Twitter: @tayl0rsarah LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-taylor-48a562211/

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