Live Review: Blondie, Arena Birmingham, 13th November 2017
The iconic New York power poppers overcome early misfires to triumph with a show of smashing songs in the Midlands
Review by Andrew Steel
It’s been a while since Blondie played venues the size of Arena Birmingham. Twenty years have passed since the iconic New York outfit reformed and put out the scattershot No Exit, an album that played like some middling pastiche of the band’s halcyon days. Fast forward two decades to the present, and Debbie Harry and company are reinvigorated, buoyed by their biggest success since in the shape of Pollinator, a record crammed with glorious, preening power pop, and a worthy heir to the Parallel Lines glory years. It offers little challenge to those expecting some kind of late-era wholesale reinvention; instead, the new wave heroes stick to their guns and play up the hits, offering up a sweet, shiny set of copper-bottomed classics that land with the impact of the world’s grittiest sugar-rush.
Draped in a bee-friendly aesthetic, from the static bug buzz of their introductory video screen interludes to their frontwoman’s insectoid-inspired hairband and wardrobe, they initially seem at risk of a misfire; Harry half-mutters, half-shouts hippyish epitaphs on a messy One Way or Another and fluffs her cue twice during Hanging on the Telephone. But when the 72-year-old arrives at Fun, Pollinator’s electro-lashed lead single, she hits her stride, sounding sumptuous behind the microphone. It’s across the new material that she is most dynamic; on the Moroder-goes-Steinman bombast of Fragments, her strained roar borders on the quasi-operatic, whilst Too Much sees her coax wry acceptance out of relationship problems over a smattering of superb dancefloor beats.
Elsewhere, it’s business as usual across the board; human metronome Clem Burke hammers away at the back for the duration of the night whilst musical mastermind Chris Stein remains an anonymously Warholian figure rear-left of stage, occasionally dabbing for no obvious reason. There’s such a pleasurable thrill to be had from seeing smashing pop gems like the driving Maria or the giddy Call Me, any rough edges can be smoothed over and forgiven. They roll out rarities – a prog-laced Fade Away and Radiate is particularly eerie – and they tip their hat to Midlands music on the side too, prefacing Heart of Glass with snippets from Black Sabbath’s Iron Man and Paranoid. By the time they’ve crashed headfirst into the muscular pop-rock of Dreaming, Harry has shed her antenna headwear, prancing across the stage with a zany grin; released from the hive at last, she and Blondie remain both enduringly eccentric and timeless.