Written by Emma Batrick
Please don’t sing I’ll Stand by You.
That’s all I keep thinking. Pretty insulting to a woman whose career is older than I am and has a voice that sounds as fresh as when she started out.
Spotlights dot the stage and an acoustic guitar is plucked, an eerie whistle carries the tune along with Chrissie Hynde’s voice, “Spin me a yarn and draw me inside. Tourniquet to stop the bleeding, the arms that held her are gone.” It sounds a bit Anna Calvi/Nick Cave, a lament about Stockholm syndrome, and track nine from Chrissie Hynde’s new album, Stockholm, which has been branded to be her first as a solo artist and features appearances from Neil Young and Jon McEnroe on guitar. Yes, him.
Pace quickly changes as we dart off to Sweet Nuthin’, the following track from the same album. “Don’t you be such a baby, man up to me, I don’t mean maybe.” A line which could sum up both the women taking the stage tonight, as, for want of a better phrase, they’ve both got balls, both fronting bands that have spearheaded and changed the direction of eras of music, and become iconic in its history. Staying upbeat we go back to the Pretenders’ first album with Kid, then onto the next with Message of Love.
She gives off this air that despite the fact that she’s performed on some of the biggest stages – but never the Roundhouse, which I find ridiculous, as she describes seeing the Ramones, Cat Power and the Brian Jonestown Massacre here – and collaborated with some of the biggest artists, deep down part of her is still the woman with the guitar slung around her neck in music bars asking people if they want to start a band. Her drummer is one of the most athletic I’ve seen, in that he just can’t seem to stop dancing and rolling his body along with the music. The keyboard player, from Norwich (she tells you where each of them are from) also plays the French horn and the lead guitarist and bassist are quite excellent. There’s a real ease with the way she is with the band, who she introduces many times – she seems eager to give them credit for their work. And when she talks to the audience you don’t feel that she’s putting anything on, filling time while things move around her, or being anything other than her natural self, even singing happy birthday to one fan after saying “It’s your birthday and you’ve just turned 30. Fuck off. You look good on it. Don’t worry about the drinking and the smoking. Give it another 20 years.” She could be in a tiny pub somewhere. That’s how intimate she’s making this space feel, and personal, as she turns to the balcony and waves “One of my exes. Fucking hate that guy.” I crane my neck…which one?
“I found a picture of you” leads to every voice in the room singing oh ohhhh ohhh ohhh. It’s that song from the radio and everyone’s childhood. It’s followed by Wasted Behind Your Dark Sunglasses, upbeat and gloriously pop from her new album, followed by what’s introduced to be a very sad song (please don’t be I’ll Stand by You) also from her new album, Adding the Blue. No one seems to be taking this new slow song as the opportunity to run to the bar, pee, or even look at their phone. She’s got the audience rapt, and after shouts “Any requests? We’ll do it!” I have to stop myself shouting Tattoed Love Boys as a cheer goes up for the start of Back on the Chain Gang. This is the only time that I could say that I heard anything out of whack, and it’s a shame that it’s on such a recognisable intro, but no one’s perfect, and it’s not even her that’s going wrong. The guitar comes off and we’re all dancing away with Chrissie to Don’t Get Me Wrong. Yet another guitar gets slung around her shoulders and we’re into the dark yet twinkly-aggressive riff-tastic Precious, which is delightful. As she spits the words Fuck off my ego would have me believe that that’s aimed at me and my ignorant Please Don’t Sing I’ll Stand by Youmantra at the beginning. This goes into Middle of the Road without any preamble, everyone on that stage is having it, and these seem like the songs that they enjoy the most, and you can see where the likes of Karen O should give a nod. She throws her plectrum into the audience, takes out a mouth organ and gets playing.
As she says, “Did you get your U2 record? Yeah? Well go and fucking buy mine.” I will. I’m just not sure which one. Chrissie Hynde! Fuck yeah. I love Blondie and I’m worried about going total fan girl about being in the same room as them. I didn’t know what to expect with Chrissie Hynde and now I’m wondering how anyone could follow her.
Wearing monochrome. That’s how. I know Debbie Harry has been labelled as a fashion icon and her individuality in dress sense was important to that era, so I’ll just get what she was wearing (I wouldn’t tell you what a man was wearing) out the way now.
The band – Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Tommy Kessler, Leigh Foxx and Matt Katz-Bohen, come out to this military sounding song and crackly screens behind them. The stage lights up – also monochrome thin parallel lines – and One way or another is growled out to an audience ready to join in, then it’s onto the electro-disco-tastic Rave, from their new album Ghosts of Download/Blondie 4(0)-Ever Greatest Hits, with old footage of the band in the background.
A phone rings. Debbie walks up to the mike and says “Um, hello” and then belts out I’m in the phonebooth it’s the one across the hall… It’s not word perfect, but it’s brilliant, and there’s no need for the band to be singing the woahs, the audience has that sorted.
Mile High, another new song, is in the same sort of vein as Rave, and I can’t help but wonder if Blondie want to take us to a gay bar. Whether the audience have heard the song before or not, I don’t know, but all the ohs and yeah yeah yeahs are joined in with, such are the hooks and the stage presence that carries it.
Clem Burke’s been compared to Keith Moon many a time, but I don’t think that’s fair. He’s so good, he’s an entity in his own right, behind his Perspex screen, wearing his Ramone’s T-shirt, busting out an immense solo, throwing his sticks in the air and bashing on into Call Me. Matt Katz-Bohen comes to the front of the stage with a keyboard slung around his neck for the solo, and as more people take the spotlight you’re reminded that this is a band that has never been just about the woman with the now blond wig.
All the new songs seem to be in a much higher vocal key, where Harry seems a bit more comfortable now, actually, and Take Me in Your Arms is no different. This goes into the song that hailed their big comeback in 1999, Maria, which has never been my favourite because in much the same way that the punk purists of the 70s hated their fucking disco record Parallel Lines, I didn’t want Blondie to bring out such a noddy pop song. And that’s exactly what makes it brilliant. I’d be surprised if there were more than ten people not singing along.
Debbie introduces each member of the band individually, each to great applause. We are in the presence of greatness after all. Legends of the music industry, whether they’ve been in the band from the very start or not. This is the 40th year since Blondie was formed. The woman on stage is 70 next year. As she takes her waistcoat off and adjusts her skirt she’s still receiving cat calls and cheers. Pervs.
Another new song is introduced, “Euphoria, euphoria” Harry drawls, and the reggae beat kicks in. They’re still an eclectic group and it’s greatly received and it takes us to the unmistakable intro of Rapture. I’m pleased to report, the rap is spot on, and I should know, I’m rapping along with her word for word, until Burke whips up another drum solo and takes us into the Beastie Boys Fight for Your Right to Party.
Harry apologises for the little slip, and says that the band are great so hopefully they make up for her. “You have to realise that this is the last show of almost three months of touring, I’m losing my mind and these guys are great.” She’s brilliant though. She’s not always spot on, her voice hasn’t kept as well as Hynde’s and sometimes her dancing seems so fragmented because she is looking to the rest of the band to work out when she needs to come in. The only thing that really irritates me is that sometimes she runs around the stage just to play up to the camera, but bloody hell, she’s running around the stage, for an hour and a half, and dancing her socks off. Like I said, I’m a total fan-girl, it’s killing me not to give a 100% positive review, but as Mike Chapman, producer of their album that made them Parallel Lines once said “It’s all a bit out of sync. It’s not perfect. And that was the secret I think to keeping the element of Blondie.” This is Blondie.
She talks about the weather for a bit, mudlarks, and then once the time is filled (which, unlike Hynde, it does feel like) we go into the massive singalong of The Tide is High which breaks down into a massive jam session with a jazz feel. Groove is in the heart. Her calls of Baby baby baby build the music up again and we’re off.
Burke spills into another drum solo with videos of him in his younger days rolling behind and da-na-na-nill…Atomic. Fucking hell (that’s a direct quote from my notes). I don’t want to be a massive cliché, but the song is so euphoric, the band so spot on, every single part of the way that it builds and progresses takes you with it and by the end of it you actually feel like you’ve witnessed and been through something quite amazing. Forget everything else, how do you follow that?!
It’s off into the first song from the new album Sugar on the Side, which has a bit of a polka feel, accordion sound and rap ‘n’ all. The beat lends itself to the next song, immediately recognisable from the cowbell kicking in. Once I had love, and it was a gas…a skull mirrorball floats on the screens behind. I have honestly never seen so many people waving as all the oooh-oooh-ooh-ohs come out, and as it ends it sounds like it’s going into God Save The Queen. It doesn’t, but there are still surprises, for me, at least, who has never seen Blondie, to come, despite the fact that they’ve left the stage.
They return to the beat of foot stamping and wild applause and launch into Union City Blues, Harry saying that they still have a couple of songs left. I’m aching to hear Dreaming and getting ready to be disappointed as she says “We’ve only done this once before and it’s kind of serious but I think we’re all kind of sick of what’s going on in the world” and the sirens sound. No way. I laugh as I realise that it’s Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, which they take into the aggressive disco of War Child, which I love, but looking at the crowd I think I might be the only person that’s heard it before.
As she says, they end on a lighter note, and they sing me my favourite Blondie song. It’s always been a close call between this and Atomic, for me, but lyrically – and Harry, as much as she might have been a fashion icon, a sex symbol, scandalous for her risqué behaviour and lyrics about watching people shower, which are tame by today’s standards is a great lyricist – Dreaming is the one for me.