Blondie, X Warehouse Live September 27, 2013
Blondie's show last Friday night was a far cry from faultless. And I, like everyone else on the packed floor of Warehouse Live, could've cared less. It was Blondie.
Opening band X played a fairly long set of sustainable American music that sounded pretty much exactly as it did in 1977 when this L.A.-based outfit got started. I guess this is the beauty of classic American punk rock: generally it is somewhat innocuous in the respect that it could have been made 36 years ago or 36 days ago and no one could really tell the difference.
One must admire X's dedication to the punk-rock lifestyle. Most other bands that have been around this long either "sold out," gave up, or died. Observing X play, however, there is no doubt that sort of lifestyle is undeniably aging. At one moment, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine it was the late '70s and I was hearing X for the first time. It probably sounded much the same, but upon opening my eyes, it was apparent that a lot of time has gone by.
Overall, X is a standard punk band that is slightly softened by the woman's touch lent by Exene Cervenka. But when I say "soft," think of the more supple parts of an alligator: it's still pretty rough and raw. The crowd was really into their set, very engaged and excited, which was a great omen of the show to come.
After about a half-hour break where everyone in the crowed seemed to be repositioning themselves for better visibility of the iconic headliner to come, Blondie sauntered casually onto the stage and opened with "One Way or Another." From the second Debbie Harry and co. started playing, the entire crowd was fully engaged.
During the song, it was obvious that time and life have taken a toll on Harry's voice. As much as it pains me to say, she did not sound great. However, during the second song (the classic "Hanging on the Telephone"), it was abundantly clear that the crowd simply did not care. Funny to be at a show where the sound isn't exactly stellar, but the people are SO into it... a theory as to why:
People love Debbie Harry and they always have. Guys wanted to date her, girls wanted to be her or be friends with her. Not much has changed; she's still the coolest. Her "I don't give a shit" attitude is a somehow an appealing blend of arrogance and awesomeness.
For a sexy woman, she moves with the stiffness and strangeness of an old robot. She's pretty when she's not. She is cooler than you are. She inexplicably wears unstylish sunglasses for the first six songs. She is like a melding of the beautiful bullshit of Studio 54 with the gritty pretention of CBGB. Subtle glances and eye movements are undeniably Debbie. Is she on drugs? Does it matter? Do we care?
In short, Debbie Harry is the baddest bitch at the party. She gives precisely zero fucks. She looks and sounds like she has lived the party, too. And guess what? The crowd LOVES her for it.
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It took me exactly six and a half songs to take off my critic hat and join the crowd. This was during "The Tide Is High," everyone's favorite New Wave reggae song, when Harry either forgot the lyrics, purposely jumbled them all up, or simply didn't care. I looked around, and the crowd didn't care either. From this moment on, the show took on a completely different meaning for me.
I reached a point where I realized I didn't care if the show wasn't "great." I was watching muthafuckin' BLONDIE. This show was as much about the memory of Blondie as it was the show itself. I, like the crowd, ADORE Blondie. And I, like the crowd, have had many unbelievable memories in my life that I will always associate with this classic group.
So I, like the crowd, allowed myself to slip into the nostalgia of the moment and relive the memories through the music. But, taking it even a step further, Blondie had the ability to make the audience feel nostalgia for a period of time, or experiences, that they may have never even had, which is one of the weirdest and most amazing emotions to feel.
I believe that for real music fans this happens from time to time: music can make you feel connected to an era or time where you were not even present. It allows you to tap into a certain musical history and experience something intangible. In this case, Blondie did this for its audience.
Being at a Blondie show, the audience somehow feels included in late-'70s/early-'80s New York City culture. Friday night, I felt like I could easily have been watching this band during one of its earliest shows in NYC, trading the clean Warehouse Live surroundings for a rank and defaced CBGB bathroom wall. This also explains the crowd: Were they feeling nostalgic? Connected? Both?
Who cares? We were watching Blondie.
The band as a whole sounded fine, but that makes sense. Blondie was always kind of about Debbie Harry. I mean, look at their name. There were some definite musical highlights, though: the percussion was formidable throughout the show, including some impressive steel-drum and bongo soloing, as well as some good classical/Flamenco-ish guitar work.
Nine songs in came "Rapture," by which point Harry's upper range was almost completely gone. It didn't matter. She had to have known it didn't sound awesome, but again, she's too cool to let that show. The crowd went nuts the whole song, but especially when Harry started the "rap." She sounded badass during the breakdown, and at least fifteen people around me had their phones out to record the live version of the first rap song ever played on MTV. For once, this didn't annoy me. It just made sense. Some cool background visuals played footage of the Manhattan Transit Authority, which made me question if New Yorkers have to ride the subway because the man from Mars ate all their cars.
"Rapture" went into a sweet breakdown of the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn," which showcased the night's best guitar shredding. Essential Blondie track "Atomic" made us all feel like we were in CBGB again, totally high on life. A few songs later, last track of the regular set, "Heart of Glass," made the crowd feel lucky to be right there in Warehouse Live.
After "Glass" was over, the crowd WORKED for their encore, which was beyond refreshing. Blondie came back, dedicated a song to X, played another track, and then went into "Call Me," which the crowd had clearly been waiting for. Debbie ditched the French, which made me sad, because it was one of the most quintessential pieces of her cool back in the day.
The last song started playing and I pretty much lost my shit. "Dreaming" came on and I noticed that Harry really seemed to enjoy performing this song. Not so coincidentally, she sounded really great on this track. It was the perfect way to end the evening: the song's nostalgia-driven lyrics tied the night together with a memory-laden bow. Dreaming is free.
Sometimes the thought of something, or its memory, or the idea of it, is better than the thing itself. But that doesn't make us love the thing any less. Blondie, a group that managed to meld synth-pop, New Wave, punk, and a seemingly random tropical influence to create something completely unique, still is one of a kind. And damn cool.
Personal Bias: This show connected the audience both through personal memories and as musical history. It was fantastic to see these songs come to life, even if they were less than perfection.
The Crowd: Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this was the best crowd I have ever seen in Houston. Attentive and engaged, excited, singing, dancing. Awesome.
Overheard In the Crowd: There was a man a few feet away from me that was "wide-dancing" like I've never seen before. I don't know what music was playing inside his head (or what drugs he was on) but it was hilarious. He was a hopping, fist-pumping, one-man party.
Random Notebook Dump: During "Call Me," the keyboardist came out and played a KEYTAR!!! The cutie pie next to me (a fun guy named Oliver who was really enjoying the show) totally geeked out... as did I.
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