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

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
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.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links