Blondie, Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Kele, Digital, Brighton

Blondie performing for picnickers in the Cotswolds might seem unlikely, but somehow it works

The strange and beautiful career of Debbie Harry is now entering a fascinating phase. At the age of 64, when most rock chicks have long since retired, it's clear that this pop icon has no intention of stopping.

That figure may come as a shock to some, especially since most of Harry's post-punk peers are now around the 50 mark, but the defining sex symbol of the late Seventies was always older than she let on.

There are all sorts of surprising stats one can bring up here: born in 1945, Harry is two years the senior of Mary Weiss of The Shangri-Las, whose girl group sassiness she drew on heavily in Blondie's early years. And she's also two years older than Marc Bolan, who had already gone superstellar, faded away and died by the time Blondie had their turn. The opening couplet of "Dreaming" – "When I met you at the restaurant/You could tell I was no debutante" – was, therefore, deadly accurate. With her worldly-wise attitude and calculating eyes (they added you up and found you wanting), Debbie Harry was always the anti-ingenue.

And, after one big comeback and a succession of aftershocks, she evidently intends to continue performing, like Marlene Dietrich, well into her twilight years, or perhaps even, like Josephine Baker, till the day she drops. The vital difference is that Blondie in the 21st century is no cabaret nostalgia act. Or at least, not entirely.

To the bemusement of an audience here for the hits, this tour is largely a preview of Blondie's upcoming ninth studio album, Panic Of Girls. In some ways, I empathise with the picnickers. This may feel more like a Ukip conference or Countryside Alliance rally than a pop concert, and the crowd may be mainly comprised of Barbour-jerkined Ellen MacArthur types and their ruddy-cheeked offspring, but they've paid their money and they're disappointed to go home without hearing "Denis" and "Sunday Girl" (for me, the absence of "Union City Blue" is the real killer), especially when room is made for an irrelevant cover of Taio Cruz's "Break Your Heart". I'm reminded of Homer Simpson heckling Bachman Turner Overdrive: "No! No new crap! Play "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet"!"

But this setting – an arboretum (it's like a zoo, but for trees) in the middle of the Cotswolds – isn't Blondie's ideal setting in any case. Seeing Clem Burke wearing a CBGBs T-shirt behind his big Perspex drum shield is poignant: if ever there was a band who need to do what The Stooges have done, bring it back indoors to the theatres and give it some punk rock, it's Blondie (and this coming Wednesday's gig at the indigO2 in London is probably as close as we'll get).

Harry looks, it must be said, incredible. After appearing a little grandmotherly in recent years, she's recognisably Debbie Harry again: plutonium blonde hair, Grace Kelly shades, military jacket, punky pleated skirt, and – of course – the greatest cheekbones Mother Nature ever carved. And, as though looking that way gives her licence to let go, she's got a new lease of life, doing that daft rigid-armed, side-to-side dance from every video you ever remember. Her voice struggles with some of the high notes on "Maria", but on the less demanding "Picture This", "Presence Dear" and "Tide is High", she's in complete command.

The new stuff, while not a straight carbon copy of the classic material, is a Warholian screen-print variation on it, as indeed is their bar-code logo, a nod to the Parallel Lines sleeve. This figures: Blondie are Pop Art in musical form, Warhol's worldview rendered (in the) flesh.

And the hits, when they come, are no robotic regurgitations either. "Call Me" is rendered as, essentially, a live mash-up with Muse's "Uprising". On the insane and inspired hip-hop homage "Rapture" she freestyles about petrol pumps and China, and breaks off in the middle of "One Way or Another" to ad lib "I guarantee a certain amount of results if you adopt this philosophy. Flexibility in our lives and our bodies ...."

Some songs, however, are left intact. "Atomic", for example, with its wild-west heroic riff and Moroder beats, and the peerlessly disdainful disco of "Heart of Glass". You don't mess with perfection.

Watching Kele Okereke launch his solo career lends a whole new meaning to the term "vested interest". Because the black-vested Bloc Party singer looks more interested in performing his electro-centric debut The Boxer than in the stand-offish indie stylings of Bloc Party.

Wading into the crowd, literally getting into the mix (rather than farming it out to Armand Van Helden), he is, as lyrics like "I am turning into the man I used to be" suggest, taking control and reclaiming his identity.

He's even writing his own reviews: glancing down at a pendant made of red, amber and green LEDs, he says "I seem to have a flashing light in place of my heart. How symbolic ...."

Okereke's demeanour is more like that of the MC at a Rio carnival after-party than a guy doing a gig under the arches on Brighton beach, and the atmosphere is more like a rave than a Thursday night gig with a 10pm curfew: sweat, green lasers, hands in the air, and so much smoke that passers-by on the promenade pause with concern.

"Ooh, what's this?" he says coyly, putting a guitar around his neck. "I haven't seen one of these in a long time ...." He bats back requests for Bloc Party numbers for a while ("'Helicopter'? What's that?"), but it isn't long before he relents, with BP's rapturous "One More Chance" and a Hi-NRG encore of "Flux", proving that sometimes pleasing the crowd and pleasing yourself can be one and the same.

Next Week:

Simon Price encounters two very different legends: the Reverend Al Green, and the somewhat less holy Ozzy Osbourne

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor