The static that signaled the start of Blondie’s set last night was abrasive and wild; the distorted snow of an old TV filling the screens behind the stage with a raucous hiss. As quickly as it came, the noise morphed into swarms of buzzing bees in the spirit of their new album, Pollinator – a release closely tied to protecting the now-endangered, vital insect. When Debbie Harry entered, her costume enforced the message: an intricately bejeweled bee mask, antennae and all, and a black cape with the words “STOP FUCKING THE PLANET” adorning the back. The iconic rockers drowned out the resulting screams with a heart-racing “One Way or Another,” a dream-come-true opener that continuously increased in tempo and, simply put, felt like the best thing ever. Its bad-girl riffs reverberated warmly in NYC’s historic Beacon Theatre, built in 1929, whose three-tiered interior resembles a gilded palace and has the acoustics to match. The witnesses to last night’s sold-out show (already revved up after openers Deap Vally and Garbage) were enamored with the first taste of Harry’s alluring vocals and glued to her every move.
Everything about Debbie Harry demands your attention – not just the constant dear-god-it’s-really-her realization, but the cool contours of her voice, the effortless motion of her dancing, the loving smiles she frequently flashed, and of course, the familiar glow of her hair. Even so, the band was impossible to ignore. The guitar work of Chris Stein and Tommy Kessler was staggering on their second song, Blondie’s take on The Nerves’ “Hanging On the Telephone,” and they were barely getting started. Even if you were too wrapped up in their solos to focus, you couldn’t miss the turbulent bass lines of Leigh Foxx, or the grooving keys supplied by Matt Katz-Bohen. And their very next song, Pollinator’s “Fun,” culminated in a raging, rapid-fire drum break by Clem Burke, whose presence was striking as he dexterously toyed with tempo throughout the show. Blondie’s set surged ahead with a flawless “Call Me” that somehow sounded totally fresh, yet maintained the enticing lilt that first propelled it to the top of the charts. As Harry’s mesmerizing stage presence coaxed out more squeals of affection, she poured her energy into “My Monster,” a song from their new LP written by The Smiths’ Johnny Marr. Soon, Burke’s snappy drums marked the beginning of 1981’s “Rapture” – historically, the first No. 1 song in the U.S. to feature rap – which was dizzying and nostalgic in all the right ways.
All eyes were locked on the legendary songstress as she sunk into a satisfying cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” the rock fans passionately shouting along to the 1966 edict, “Everybody must get stoned!” Harry showed off the many facets of her vocal range with a strong cover of “Fragments” by Adam Johnston/an Unkindness, followed by the time-traveling Pollinator highlight, “Too Much.” Sticking to the new stuff, Blondie dove into “Long Time” – the track penned by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange for the new record – which Harry briefly interrupted to check in on the NYC crowd. “I forgot to ask you,” she said, as if catching up with each fan individually. “Do you feel happy? Because it’s hard to be happy in New York City. It’s a difficult environment,” she said with a knowing grin. Then, with no sign of slowing, they threw us back to ‘79 with a hard-hitting “Atomic” fueled by Burke’s manic drumming. But the moment “Heart Of Glass” revealed itself as the next song, the audience seemed to realize the show was ending. Every second we had left with them became all the more valuable, like the fleeting moments of alignment in a rare solar eclipse. With anatomical glass hearts sparkling and shattering on the screens behind her, Harry’s range was strong and sure as she delivered the hit’s effervescent verses, and a faction of the crowd rushed the aisles in spite of the guards. The only thing that could console us when she waved and left the stage was the explosive, accelerated ending that saw Katz-Bohen switching to keytar and sent the band shredding for minutes – though they honestly could have pleased us for hours.
“You are all my dream. You really are. Thank you very much,” Harry told us when she returned for their fiercely-demanded encore, which kicked off with the memorable ‘79 single, “Dreaming.” In one of the best finales this year, Blondie closed out their Beacon performance with “The Tide Is High,” and, no lie, welcomed a 17-person marching band to the stage for the occasion – 2 bass drums, 2 snares, cymbals, 6 trumpets, 5 trombones, and even a sousaphone decorated with rope lights. The brass and percussion were an intoxicating addition to The Paragons’ original rocksteady melody, and Debbie Harry sounded nothing less than majestic amid the splendor of the horns. It was one of those high-powered shows that shook you straight through the subway ride home, and still seeped into your dreams by the time you drifted to sleep.
Photos: Shayne Hanley
Article: Olivia Isenhart