“Hey listen,” grinned Debbie Harry on the occasion of her sixty-eighth birthday, “I'm trying to act my age, you know? I know it's too late, but what the f***.”
The sharp collective intake of breath followed by a round of applause, gleeful at the sound of a taboo being smashed with that last word, perfectly summed up the tension between the two Blondies which exist. On the one hand, the sharp, direct New York profanity of 1970s dive bar punks Blondie, a group who were doubtless not strangers to such language. On the other, latter pop chart mainstays Blondie and their iconic poster girl singer Harry, whose shows are a pan-generational good night out waving our hands in the air.
While the music wrought by the five-piece band standing behind her often pandered to the latter market with a certain slickness and lack of surprise, Harry remains the force which unites these two eras in the band’s history. She looked great, with a sleek white-blonde bob (possibly artificial, but one doesn’t like to presume) and a clingy pink dress that would also flatter a woman a third her age. Her voice remains strong, a loving lullaby and then a rasping knee below the belt, often within the same line.
With a new album entitled Ghosts of Download imminent there was plenty of new material in the set, including a somewhat underwhelming when shorn of Beth Ditto “A Rose By Any Name” and the cod-Caribbean rhythm of “Drag You Around”, a point chosen by many as their first visit to the bar. Yet “Sugar On the Side” was pleasingly Latin-tinged – played alongside the all-out flamenco pop of 2011’s “Wipe Off My Sweat”, complete with Miami Sound Machine-style soloing from guitarist Tommy Kessler, a more demonstrative foil to the reserved Chris Stein – and “Take Me in the Night” was pleasant New Wave-style pop that sticks in the mind.
With a sparse, nocturnal cover of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” in there, they clearly remain a band who aren’t unused to trying to further themselves musically, although such considerations seem redundant in the face of an audience which only gets really excited for the hits - for “Hanging On the Telephone”, “Maria”, the stand-out disco freak-out “Atomic” and an ever-welcome “Heart of Glass”. Yet as a capsule of their time they also seem happy to take risks, following a cornily keytar-abetted “Call Me” with a bold cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” which only Harry’s iconic status soft-soaped into acceptability.