Pop culture icon Debbie Harry and band shared new songs and relied on the classics in a lively performance that focused on the fun, but also subtly delved into the subversive.
It’s been 40 years since the release of “Parallel Lines,” an album that launched new wave band Blondie into mainstream success in the United States.
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All those decades later, the band members remain the coolest people in the room and lead singer Debbie Harry continues her reign as the queen of it all.
Clad in mirrored sunglasses, pink-tipped platinum locks and the kind of well-earned swagger that must come with being a long-time music icon and sex symbol, Harry led “the best band” (guitarist Chris Stein, drummer Clem Burke, bassist Leigh Foxx, guitarist Tommy Kessler and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen) through a 95-minute set Friday night at a crowded Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park amphitheater.
Soldiering on through sweltering temperatures and at-times-oppressing humidity, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers — class of 2006 — offered a 16-song set that included new tracks (from last year’s “Pollinator”), covers, obscure numbers and nearly all of the greatest hits (“Call Me,” “One Way or Another,” “The Tide is High,” “Maria” and show finale “Dreaming.”)
A mid-set “Rapture” showcased the band’s dreamy disco vibe while Harry nailed the ending breakdown that helped the song become the first-ever No. 1 track in the country to feature rap vocals.
STICKY, SWEATY FUN
“Heart of Glass,” the final offering before a brief, pre-encore break, segued into an all-instrumental version of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” that wonderfully highlighted the band’s live musical prowess.
And in spite of what can only be described as gross weather — so sticky! so sweaty! — the audience showed due respect to the musical legends, with most guests up and dancing for a good portion of the evening, regardless of how the physical movement likely sped up the inevitable dehydration. (Did I happen to mention it was hot?)
Though aiming to keep things light and “Fun” — also the third song of the set list — Harry didn’t shy entirely away from expressing her subversive political views, albeit through somewhat indirect means. When first appearing for the evening (to much applause and crowd anticipation), Harry strode across the stage in the aforementioned shades and pink hair, sparkly tennis shoes and a white cape emblazoned with the rather direct message, “Stop ***king the Planet.”
Later, kicking off a two-song encore, Harry said, “Here’s a special number and I think you’ll know why we’re playing it,” before launching into the James Bond song, “From Russia With Love.”
GRAND RAPIDS’ SURF-ROCK FAVES THE CONCUSSIONS HEATED THINGS UP
While deeply embracing its decades-old sound and hits, Blondie deftly sidestepped the “nostalgia concert” trap on Friday night. The band’s leads are seasoned, to be sure. But this wasn’t one of those cheesy “reunion-y”-feeling shows where attendees walk away feeling warm and fuzzy at having heard a bunch of familiar songs, but with a back-of-the-mind nagging sensation of pity for the “old guys.”
Blondie is simply a good band that’s been around for a long while, with a great lead and some really fun songs. They’ll perform once more this tour in Michigan; tonight at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Tickets are $51.50-$68.50, available at interlochen.org.
Grand Rapids-based surf rock four-piece The Concussions set the tone for a hip evening of good music. You know, the kind of band you can feel confident in queuing up at a party while waiting for the compliments to roll in (“Why yes, I do have good taste in music. Thank you for noticing.”)
Sacrificing comfort for the sake of style, members Tommy Schichtel, Matt Mason, Claude Nine and Billy Vits donned skeleton masks and rocked out for a well-received 40-minute set of instrumental bliss, occasionally reminding the audience, “We are your hometown band.” Catch them Aug. 5 at Red Dock in Douglas.
Read the Local Spins interview with Blondie drummer Clem Burke: Blondie set for return to Michigan
PHOTO GALLERY: Blondie, The Concussions at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Eric Stoike (On the Run Photography)