Thursday, September 19, 2013

Adrian's Summer/Fall Concert Blitz, Part 7: Blondie, Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA, 9/17/13

This was my second time at Marymoor Park this summer, the first being for Steely Dan. This night was noticeably much cooler than for that first show, as I drove to the park through some light drizzle in one of the final days of summer.

If any of the concerts on my Summer/Fall Blitz was an impulse decision, this was the one. I had no expectations from this show other than to enjoy a night out and hear some of the songs that made up the soundtrack of my childhood. Blondie's Autoamerican album was one of the first I ever bought with my own money, after I heard their reggae-meets-new wave hit "The Tide Is High" on the radio. I'm not sure what attracted my 9-year-old ears to that song, but I wouldn't be surprised if Debbie Harry's voice had something to do with it. I've always preferred female singers to male ones, even back then. And there's always been something about Debbie's voice that set her apart from her peers -- it was the way she could slide so effortlessly from that kind of breathy, angelic tone she used for the high notes into a deeper-voiced, full-on attack when she wanted to take control of a song. Her singing style, in short, does a lovely dance combining vulnerability and power. Very versatile; very impressive.

The crowd was one of the most normal-looking I'd seen at any of the shows this summer! Most were in my age range, I'd say -- late 30s to early 50s -- and most of them looked as if they could have just swung over to Marymoor after picking up their groceries at the local Safeway. At my summer shows I've seen hipsters, hippies, abundantly tattooed and pierced punks, and overly earnest, bearded, bespectacled young men who looked as if they'd just walked in from a poli-sci debate at the corner coffeehouse. Not a lot of that stuff going on here. The most I saw were a few ladies walking around in their black rock-band T-shirts, tight skirts, boots, and fishnet stockings, evidently trying to recapture that punk/new-wave vibe from the late '70s and early '80s. I figured a lot of them were probably there to see the opening act, X, whose material I know just enough to say with some certainty that they were a little more punk while Blondie learned a little more toward new wave.

I missed X's set and only got to my seat about 15 minutes before Blondie came out. And as soon as the lights dimmed, people from all around me abandoned their seats to crowd themselves down around the stage -- which meant I had to stand to see anything.

Debbie came out wearing a black robe and a rimless, pointy black hat. At first I thought she was trying to make like a witch or a wizard, but then it occurred to me that her current tour is called "No Principals." Note the spelling. Was she maybe combining a graduation gown and a dunce cap?

Well, in any event, the costume came off in stages during the show. She lost the cap after the first song, revealing her full head of still platinum-blonde hair.

A few songs later, the gown was unzipped, revealing a black top, black leather skirt, and black knee-high boots underneath. OK, maybe those punk-rockers I saw before the show wouldn't feel so out of place at a Blondie show after all.

Debbie had a great stage presence. She was energetically shimmying around the stage and interacted a lot with the crowd -- even leaning down to dole out some high-fives while she sang. The song I was mostly there to hear, "The Tide Is High," sounded great with a new arrangement. If you remember the Blondie original, you know the mood relied a lot on strings and horns. But there were no strings or horns in sight -- only Debbie, two guitarists (including her longtime musical partner, and former romantic partner, Chris Stein), a bassist, and a drummer. The staccato offbeat rhythm was there, courtesy of the guitars, leaving the basic reggae groove intact, but the middle instrumental section turned into a surprisingly heavy, guitar-driven romp, played in a straight-ahead rocking 4/4 beat. Interesting twist.

To their credit, the band played all the hits you would have expected to hear -- "Call Me," "Heart of Glass," "One Way or Another," "Rapture" -- and they didn't shy away from leaning quite a bit on newer material. They played around half a dozen songs from their newest album, Ghosts of Download, that hasn't even been released yet! So kudos to Blondie for pushing forward and not just devolving into an oldies act playing the circuit. And the new material sounds fresh and exciting, with the same kind of energy and blending of styles -- pop, rock, dance, new wave -- that was always one of the band's trademarks.

The group even pulled out a few surprise cover tunes -- The Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" and Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax."

My biggest complaint of the night is that it was obvious a lot of pre-recorded backing vocals were being piped in to sweeten the sound. There just weren't as many people with their mouths to microphones onstage as there were voices in the air. On a couple of occasions, Debbie even stopped singing momentarily while her vocals continued. Oops.

Not that she was lip-syncing the entire show, because a lot of the older material she sang really showed the age of her voice. That angelic lilt she used to have is largely not there anymore. She sang "Rapture" in a lower voice than on the original, and she didn't even attempt to go for the higher registers on "Call Me" and "Heart of Glass," which were already pretty severely transposed down.

But I can't really knock her for that. Age takes its toll. Debbie Harry is 68 years old, for goodness' sake. She's full of energy, puts on an entertaining show, and seems to still love singing. I couldn't really have asked for more than that.


One Way or Another
Hanging on the Telephone
Union City Blue
A Rose by Any Name
The Tide Is High
Drag You Around
No Sleep Till Brooklyn
What I Heard
Wipe Off My Sweat
Sugar on the Side
Heart of Glass


Mile High
Call Me

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