For the second time this summer, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame approaching seventy years of age graced a Chicago stage live in concert. In August, it was sixty-nine year old Paul McCartney. In September however, it was Blondie's Deborah Harry.
At sixty-six years of age, Harry seems to have defied time. Live in concert, she's the very epitome of a timeless cool as she fronts her band in a calm and sexy manner that remains as interesting today as it did during the band's heyday (a period that saw them release six albums in six years between 1976 and 1982). While there seems at times to be a certain childlike naivete to her stage presence and banter, Harry nevertheless commands attention and gets it. You just can't take your eyes off of her.
As the band tours in support of the upcoming release of their ninth studio album Panic of Girls (September 13), what impressed me most about Blondie is their ability to stay relevant. Many of the band's early eighties peers tour merely as nostalgia acts completely content to roll through the same twenty year old hits night after night. But on Wednesday at House of Blues, Blondie performed a setlist consisting of sixteen songs, seven of which can be found on the new album. And those new tracks totally worked within the confines of hits that could cripple a band with a lesser ability to stay ahead of the curve.
It took Harry a few songs to find her groove, but once she found it (I'd love to know what was in the two coffee mugs she visited often throughout the show), she loosened up, started dancing and the band hit their stride. "Dreaming" came second in the show and it set the tone for the night. Harry hit some of her highest notes during this song and she sounded vocally impeccable. It's clear she keeps her instrument in phenomenal shape.
Unfortunately, as great as Harry was, Blondie co-founder Chris Stein was that bad. He looked to be phoning it in for most of the show, though he did hit a few spots (most notably his solo during "Rapture" and playing on "Heart of Glass").
The band sounded jubilant on their 1999 comeback hit "Maria" and detoured unexpectedly into the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right" during "Rapture."
But it was the evening's second to last song that may have provided the night's most poignant moment. Harry's voice was at it's best as the band began a fitting version of fellow New York punk Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory." And the beautiful ballad really summed the band up well. Not content to simply wrap their arms around the past, Blondie continues to move forward not only live but on album as well.
Local rockers The Handcuffs opened the show in support of their new album release (Waiting For the Robot) the day before. From that record, the band performed standout tracks like "Dirty Glitter." Singer Chloe Orwell handled vocals and guitar while longtime partner Brad Elvis pounded the skins. Elvis (one of Chicago's best drummers) paid homage to his hero Keith Moon (in recognition of the thirty-third anniversary of Moon's death on September 7, 1978) not only with his furious playing but also with a framed picture of The Who drummer on the floor next to his kit. Always a blast live, you should check out The Handcuffs this Sunday at the Wells Street Fall Fest.